Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Farm Task List

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Once again last weekend, we were gifted with over twenty enthusiastic volunteers on the farm. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of neighbors and those passing by who have been so willing to give of themselves so that the farm might grow and prosper. Many have asked what they would be doing if they come out on a Saturday from 9-12 so we prepared this list of standard tasks to give our volunteers a better idea of what it takes to maintain the space.

Farm at Walker Jones Task List

Bed Maintenance
We have four main production beds that need continual maintenance. This work needs to happen daily and is an important way volunteers can contribute on a regular basis including:
Path Clearing/Maintenance
Watering (moving sprinklers and hand watering fig trees)
Grass cutting (A special job for adults that are willing!)
Weed Wacking (Along fence and sidewalk.)

Harvesting does not happen on the farm all the time, but occasionally their are opportunities to do the following:
Fruit Picking (Squash, Eggplant)
Leaf Picking (Collards, Kale)
Root Picking (Beets)

Farm Support Services
There are key areas that require continual work to ensure soil quality and a strong farm including:
Compost turning
Paper and cardboard collection
Shredding paper and cardboard
Coffee pickup (at out local coffee houses)
Trash pick-up (including along New Jersey Avenue and in the parking lot next to the farm)

Off the Farm
There are also other ways volunteers can contribute without coming to the farm:
Plant contributions (We need more herbs for our herb beds and appreciate the help!)
Grant writing support
Telling your friends (the more volunteers the better!)
Container donations (for harvesting and delivery)

Your work on the farm is appreciated by the staff, administration and students of Walker Jones! Thank you for helping us create and maintain a productive urban farm for District students!


The Beauty of Eggplant

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Thursday we picked the most gorgeous fairy tale eggplant. The kindergartners under Ms. Tuck and Ms. McAlee’s care were so excited to see this variegated purple fruit hanging from Walker Jones’ short bushy plants. Purple flowers and dark green leaves framing the fruit would make anyone turn their head. As one of our most enthusiastic young ladies said, “The purple flowers are beautiful. The purple eggplants are beautiful. And they are called fairy tale eggplants and I love fairy tales.”

The score amounted to five pounds of eggplant that we took home and roasted. And after cutting into fresh off the vine eggplant there is really no substitute–the seeds were as bright colored as the flesh. We roasted the fruit in a good olive oil, salt and pepper and a thinly sliced onion. Then we let it cool till the next morning. I always find it best to let something you are going to serve cold sit overnight if you can. That way flavors have time to jell. Eggplant chilled properly develops an almost creamy gelatinous texture. Friday morning we mixed the eggplant with fresh basil and sandwiched it inside fresh baked cornbread.

We are proud to report that every one of those Kindergartners at least tasted the eggplant. At the same time–to no one’s surprise–eggplant is not most five year old’s favorite. Which means that our snack this afternoon could be perceived as not a success. Even if there were brave students who admitted to liking eggplant.

The larger point here for us is to not succumb to ‘immediate success thinking’. And in this way we see a correlation between farming, teaching and cooking.’ Trust that the experiences of touching the heat from compost, tasting both raw mint and a tea brewed from mint, caring for ‘food plants’ including eggplant, chasing lady bugs and listening to each other stretch us all, both teachers and students.

Overheard on the Farm

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2010 at 12:45 am

Yesterday’s picking with the kindergarten class turned into yummy zucchini muffins today courtesy of John and Sidra’s kitchen. Most of our young friends enjoyed and all agreed to try which were small victories enough, but the experience also awakened in them an awareness of the source of their foods and a willingness to try some more. As shown in these overheard comments: “These bucchini muffins are so delicious!” and “I don’t know what an eggplant is, but I want to pick one!”

The trip to the herb patch was also a welcome opportunity to try something completely new. Each child received a small sprig of mint to sample, and “It tastes like gum” was a popular response. However, one student felt that “tastes like dirt” was a more apt description.

Whatever the verdict on the new tasting experiences, the children’s willingness to engage new tastes and new experiences was a heartening reminder that good habits are easy to impart to accepting young audiences.

All For Them

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 12:37 am

We have been waiting for the arrival of the little ones since the idea of the school farm took off. Today the farm welcomed its first visitors when kindergarten teacher Lauren McAlee brought her class over to meet farm operations director John Cochran and see what they could find growing. The photos tell the whole wonderful story.

Doors Opened Today!

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Today marks the beginning of a new school year and the first day that students got to see their new school farm. All of the hard work and generous donations have been made with today in mind. We had a tremendous volunteer day on Saturday (when Principal Martin, seen above, delightedly picked some young squash and eggplants) and look forward to more visitors that wish to help make the farm an outstanding learning environment for our students. The parents that got a glimpse of what is growing on the corner were very impressed that we have created an outdoor learning space for the students. More than anything else The Farm at Walker Jones is about student impact. We look forward to observing how the farm contributes to teaching, learning and personal growth and can’t wait to see Walker Jones students at the farm!

School Farm as Curriculum

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm

In looking for examples of schools creating new opportunities for their students and neighborhoods, we have drawn inspiration from the United Kingdom. The national government there has made a commitment to creating sustainable schools and wants every school to follow a sustainability-focused curriculum by 2020. The UK Department of Education believes that every school should teach students to positively impact the planet and their community (school farms included!).

According to the sustainable schools framework created in the UK, almost every successful project or program within a school has clear ties to the campus, community, and curriculum. . This tripod of campus, community and curriculum allows for a project to have broad impact and foundational support. The Farm at Walker Jones has clear connections to the utilization of campus property, has made use of local businesses and volunteers, and we have been working hard to make sure that the farm is integral to teaching and learning at the school.

Outdoor Classroom
The Farm at Walker Jones more than being a food production farm or a community gathering place, is an outdoor classroom. It is an environment that can support the schools dedication to campus, community, teaching and learning. We have put energy into starting a half-acre farm next to the school because we believe that students need learning environments outside of four walls, a smart board, and worksheets. The work on creating this environment has just begun, but there are opportunities for hands on learning, innovative content creation, teacher and student investment and project-base learning.

Hands on Learning
The farm has the potential to inspire teachers and students to create learning experiences that live with Walker Jones’ students for years to come. We can remember seminal moments of pulling carrots and plucking beans at a grandparent’s or aunt/uncle’s house and gaining a deeper appreciation for where food comes from. The farm has the potential to create that experience for hundreds of District students and can create a venue for students to experiment with hands on learning from science and math to economics and anthropology.

Content is Key
The potential for the farm to be a driving force in curriculum content is massive. The fact that clear and easy to understand examples from the farm can be used to teach measurement in a math classroom or botany and life cycles in science class is mentioned by many people that casually stop by the farm. The opportunities that the farm presents to address school and community health and wellness issues will be a key focus to our work this year. The challenge in addressing how to make connections between the farm and curriculum will not be finding great content examples, but will be in finding the best ways to allow students and teachers to access farm resources and opportunities.

Teacher Autonomy
In moving the farm curriculum forward it will be essential to allow teachers the autonomy to decide what ways the farm could best be incorporated into the curriculum. The strength of the farm will be in the numerous ways teachers find to use it to support teaching and learning at the farm and in their individual classrooms. Prescribing a formal mandatory curriculum, while in some ways tempting, will not fulfill the potential the farm has to be a transformational force within the Walker Jones’ campus, curriculum and community.

Eventually, the goal is not just that the farm become a place for teacher autonomy and to be a platform for innovative instruction, but it can be an environment that gives students a platform to create their own research projects and educational experiences. The farm has the potential to be a platform for everything from small business creation to urban agricultural research, as well as an inspiring place for a five year old to create important connections at an early age that could lead to complex future endeavors.

We have only put a few words to paper and a few marks in the soil this summer, but the potential for the farm to be an exciting component of Walker Jones’ offerings is in front of us. Volunteers, partnerships with organization and businesses, and open thinking between teachers, parents, and students, will give the school numerous opportunities to make the farm a catalyst for innovation and learning. It’s time to work hard and get creative.

– Braden Kay

A District Evolution

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm

This Spring, I received a phone call from my long time friends Sidra and John telling me about a potential urban farm. Collaborating partners included the Walker Jones Education Campus and Seedling Projects.

I knew John and Sidra had planted a pumpkin patch at Scott Montgomery Elementary School the previous fall working with Frances, the librarian and Melissa, the principal. When Frances, Melissa and others at Scott Montgomery moved to Walker Jones, an opportunity to start a new project evolved, a 3/4 acre urban farm next to the school at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and K Street. The farm has only been growing food for a month, but the potential it has to be a part of the school is promising.

As a DC native and long-time urban farmer, the chance to join this collaboration was in my roots. At the age of five, my mom signed me up for the Twin Oaks Youth Garden at Taylor and 14th Street. Two older men and a diverse mixture of DC young people taught me how to grow collards, tomatoes, hot peppers, lettuces, kale and onions. At the age of 14, I started gardening on the corner of 3rd Street and M Northwest (just up the hill from the farm!) with John and Sidra, while learning to cook with several other District students in their restaurant.

The Farm at Walker Jones presented me with the privilege to be involved with a great (and growing!) group of people dedicated to creating a rich learning environment for District students. It was also a way for me to continue to evolve the gardening and food practice that started at 14th and Taylor Streets when I was five. There is massive potential for the Farm at Walker Jones to cause similar evolutions among young people in the District for years to come. Through farming with young people we can continue to provide more food for ourselves and each other, and learn along the way.

As someone who started my urban gardening education 23 years ago with DC Parks and Recreation, the site of a 3/4 acre farm on public school property brings me hope that more students can have the opportunities to grow and learn that I had. The Farm at Walker Jones is less a part of any recent national urban gardening revolution and more of an ongoing evolution of District gardeners and garden programs.

While I joined this group for just a handful of weeks this summer, I will never forget the opportunity to be involved in a project that hopefully will gather even more people to want to grow and learn in the District.

Almost every day that we were at the farm, we met people who were excited to see the school growing food. Every week more and more people are volunteering to farm at Walker Jones to make it a solid component of the school’s campus.

Although I had to leave Walker Jones on Wednesday for Arizona, it was great to hear that this Saturday (which is becoming our volunteer day) had a great turnout of repeat and new volunteers. One friend of the farm showed up with 2 big boxes of herb plants and two 7 year-old helpers.

The Farm at Walker Jones is a new project just in it’s infancy, but it has unlimited potential. Much of this lies in its ability to bring more Districts residents together to grow and farm, whether they have been farming in DC for years or if tomorrow is their first time.

(This post was written by Braden Kay, one of the driving forces behind the farm and a gift to everyone at Walker Jones. Braden’s combination of heart, intellect and energy touched and inspired us all this summer, and while we knew that he would return to his PhD program in Arizona come fall, a part of all of us involved wished that this very special man could have stayed with us for just a while longer. But we still see him every day. In spirit, out on the farm.)

Beautification Day 2010

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Beautification Day will be held this year on Saturday, August 21st, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. This annual event was established in 2005 as a citywide “spruce up” of all DC public school buildings in preparation for the first day of school. Beautification efforts will include landscaping, trash pick-up, light painting, planting flowers, and other external beautification efforts.

Here at Walker Jones Education Campus, volunteers will have a choice of pitching in on the farm or tidying up plant beds around the entrance and playing fields of the campus. We want everything looking it’s best when the students arrive on Monday for the first day of school. We also can’t wait to see their faces when they realize that the farm growing on the corner belongs to them. So feel like a little gardening workout? We will be most appreciative of your support of our great kids. Sign up here or just stop by. We will be happy to see you!

Interview with Melina Shannon-DiPietro

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 at 11:36 pm

The Farm at Walker Jones would not exist without a great group of collaborators working together on behalf of Walker Jones students. An influential collaborator has been Melina Shannon-DiPietro, the Director of the Sustainable Food Project at Yale University, which includes an amazing urban farm in New Haven. Melina is the designer of the Walker Jones Farm and has been on ongoing advisor to the project. The following is a recent interview with Melina:

1. What makes working with children in a garden or urban farm important?
Working the land changes a child’s relationship with food, the environment, with the land. It turns out when children are involved in growing vegetables, they are more likely to eat those vegetables. New Haven public school students – and our students, like children in DC, are in the demographic most likely to suffer from diabetes and obesity – they leave the farm saying, “my favorite food is spinach,” or “my favorite food is cilantro.” So working in a garden has an immediate, positive impact on their health. And we need children who grow up to be environmental stewards. If children have regular access to the land – any piece of land – and develop a connection to that land – they are more likely to act as environmental stewards as they grow up.

2. What was compelling to you about the opportunity to design Walker Jones’ Farm?
I love D.C. Some of my dearest friends live in D.C., and I’m always looking for excuses to spend time in D.C. What was compelling to me was the clear sense of mission driving people like you, Braden, Sidra, and Frances. And this was supported and complemented by Chancellor Rhee’s support for healthy foods and school gardens. Then there was the space itself. That land was just waiting to be farmed.I get requests from around the nation to get involved in projects, but the Walker Jones school was a unique convergence – a place I love, people with purpose, and an adminstration that appreciated that purpose. A push from Alice Waters didn’t hurt any either. 🙂

3. What are some key components of the farm design that are important to you?
School farms, at their very best, are part classroom, part art gallery, part science lab. They are places of learning, observation, and experimentation. The design for the Walker Jones garden has all those elements: the entire space is a place of learning & experimentation by nature of the project; the orchards and the perennial beds are places of particular beauty and therefore, observation. What I like most is that we made a plan that dips out into the neighborhood. Once the farm is thriving, as it grows into itself, you’ll see vines, beans and morning glories growing up the fence, drawing people in. The design is also economical, and flexible. The beds are made for productivity, and can be adopted to crops. You understood the importance of productivity from the beginning, Braden. And Sidra had this vision of fig trees that just called for an orchard.

4. Why should schools be interested in food production and what benefits and challenges does it present?
We all eat. It’s our most fundamental connection to the land. It’s also our must fundamental challenge. In the next four decades we must figure out – globally – how to feed 9 billion people in a way that cares for the health of people, the land, and the farmers and laborers growing that food. We’ve got a better chance if we allow young people to experience growing their own food. Growing food is hard work. And while our students either here in New Haven or at Walker Jones might never be farmers, they will be eaters. And they will eat with a better sense of what’s good for them and good for the land after working on a farm.

5. What has your experience at the Sustainable Food Project at Yale done to inform your thinking about food and growing?
Everything. The Yale Farm is where I learned patience; so, I learned a lot about human growth there. Our project – the work my colleagues and I do, also includes a dining hall program that pilots local, seasonal, and sustainable food in Yale’s dining halls, a series of courses and extracurricular programs related to food and agriculture. Both in the field and at the table I learn the delight of good food; the importance of sharing food in community; and the pleasure of work.

6. What have you had the most success in growing at the Sustainable Food Project?
Hmm. I’ve got a weakness for flowers, and I think our Casa Blanca lilies are out of this world. .But otherwise, I’d challenge you to try Costata Romanesco. It’s a ribbed zucchini – my family is from Italy and costata means ribbed, or striped, and this zucchini is amazing. Sweet, dense, delicate. Never mushy. Never flavorless.

7. How to you think the The Farm at Walker Jones can benefit students and families?
With the right resources, this farm can transform this intersection, the school, the neighborhood. Dedicated, dynamic leaders and teachers, with a real appreciation for good food, thoughtful teaching, and the power of community can help this farm become a launching pad for building health, leadership, and community.

8. What are the biggest surprises you have dealt with at the Sustainable Food Project or an area that the project has effected that was unexpected?
Adding a wood-burning hearth oven changed everything. The farm had always been a place where people engaged in hard work, and real community. But once we added the wood-burning hearth oven, the community suddenly came together. Students get excited about cooking; families share food; neighbors trade recipes for simple meals, cooked at home, without lots of fat or sugar. It’s a recipe for health.

9. What are some of the daily challenges of running an urban farm that many people may not think about?
Oh my! So many. They’re all good. There’s fewer deer, but more visitors. Sometimes I believe we need a full-time farm manager and a full-time question-answerer. Students, families, neighbors, young and old people, come in and they want to learn, and they want to tell their stories.

10. What tool or garden implement can you not do without?
I answered this question first. I can not do without the broadfork. It is my all-time favorite. Part aerobic-workout, part soil aerator, and part pogo stick.
The broadfork – imagine a very large, very heavy fork – deeply aerates soil without damaging the soil structure or mixing the layers. That keeps the soil – and the microbes in it – in good health.

Councilmember Tommy Wells Visits the Farm

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Councilmember Tommy Wells came out to the farm this afternoon to see what is happening on our corner at K and New Jersey in Ward 6. After a quick round of introductions, farm operations volunteer John Cochran, took Councilmember Wells on a tour of the crops that are thriving after just two weeks in the ground – eggplant, tomatoes, beans, squash, pumpkins, beets, collards, an herb garden and sunflowers just starting to peek out of the ground. Wells had questions about the compost station and our future plans for expansion of student services on the grounds in the form of an outdoor classroom, water station and maybe even a pizza oven one day.

Wells was also very interested in our plans to develop a garden curriculum this year that will integrate with standard curriculum in the classrooms and will address science, social studies, math and language arts standards. We promised to share our developing plans with him, and told him of our hopes of sharing our newly developed curriculum materials with the larger DCPS community.

The topics that appeared most important to Wells though, to his credit, were the wellness issues plaguing so many children in the district. He knowledgeably quoted statistics on obesity and other health related problems facing our student population, and expressed a hope that our project will become a part of the solution for the great kids we serve.

Many thanks Councilmember Wells for taking the time to share in our farm hopes and dreams for the kids of Walker Jones Education Campus! (And the DC politician deemed best Tweeter by DCist this week promised to follow us on Twitter too!)

Photo courtesy of City Paper.