The last two months have been really busy keeping up with our tight early planting schedule. We planted crops with our youth groups: potatoes, favas, peas. With our adult volunteers, we started tons of flats: quinoa, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, basil, and planted cilantro and dill directly into a bed. We transplanted out many early starts into the garden: sprouting broccoli, quinoa, sunflowers (for the ‘Great Sunflower Project’). This week, we’ll be planting onions, lettuce, and cabbage.
As the New Year begins at CGG, we take valuable time to reflect on both where we have been and where we want to go. Last semester showed a slowdown in our youth garden classes, but this spring they are beginning again with new fervor. We have doubled the number of middle school classes we hold in our garden, while holding our number of preschool and high school classes steady. As a result, we welcome around 250 students from local schools into our garden for classes each month. Common Ground Garden enjoys the unique privilege of being located within walking distance of almost 3,000 students, aged pre K-12 th grade. This allows us to work closely with Young Life Preschool, Terman Middle School, and Gunn High School to run monthly garden classes for students of all ages.
In addition to our regular classes with these three schools, we offer field trips to all schools in the San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. We work hard to make our field trips financially accessible to all. Thanks to a grant from Palo Alto Holiday Fund, we offer free field trips to qualifying Title 1 schools. This year, we hope to focus our lessons to include more material on nutrition and sustainable food production. The prevalence of fast food in our society is a huge detriment to the health of our most vulnerable populations, including children and typically marginalized communities. Without a taste for, or access to fresh local foods, the health of our community is in danger. Currently, 75% of all money spent on healthcare in America goes to prevent chronic, preventable diseases. More than half of that money is spent treating the long-term effects of a poor diet.* Our educational programs this year will take action to address this nutritional crisis in America.
With our high school classes from Gunn, we already focus on grain production and cooking food that has been grown, harvested, and processed in the garden. We will expand on this program, and also introduce it to the middle school groups. By the end of the semester, we aim to have each student try a fresh vegetable they haven’t had before, and understand the process through which grains are processed and packaged for the grocery store. When students think of flour, we want them to picture harvesting, threshing, and milling stalks of wheat – not a white substance that appears magically in the baking aisle. By emphasizing healthy foods and a true understanding of where they come from, we hope to improve the overall health of our 250 regular students.
Over all, January is a time for some rest and recuperation- but, by mid month we are picking up the pace a little. The hardy rutabaga seedlings we started in the green house are ready to be planted out at this Wednesday’s volunteer day. We have also started flats of onions and fava beans. Soon, we’ll be starting many of our leafy greens including lettuce, arugula, and spinach.
Now is the time to get your mini-orchard established. At Saturday’s Bare-root Fruit Tree Planting class, participants installed two blueberries, an apple rootstock (that we’ll graft onto on Feb. 4th’s class).
On Veteran’s Day, a wonderful group of 25 girl scouts, aged between 10-16, came to the garden and helped us to plant around 30 native plants in a new ‘native bed’ at the back of the garden. They donated the funds we used to purchase the plants (from Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay). At a follow-up meeting, the girls were asked for one word to describe the experience and they replied: “Fun, Enlightening, Interesting, and Hard Work”. We started the session by explaining why native plants are important (habitat and fodder for our endangered pollinators, help to form a drought tolerant ecosystem, and so on) and then we got to work clearing the area, digging holes, planting, and finally mulching to suppress weeds. The new bed will need to be watered sporadically during the coming year’s dry season, but will be left to its own devices afterwards.
Charlotte Kadifa, a Palo Alto Girl Scout SALT member wrote this piece to summarize the experience:
“The fourth annual Palo Alto Girl Scouts’ Service Day was held on Veterans’ Day, November 11th. Service Day is organized by our high school scouts’ Service and Leadership Team (SALT), of which I am a member. SALT partnered with six nonprofit organizations to provide volunteer opportunities on Veterans’ Day for 160 Girls Scouts ranging in age from 6 to 16 years old.
“For the second year, Common Ground Garden was one of the nonprofits with which we collaborated. In addition to SALT members, three troops of scouts (a total of 25 girls) volunteered at Common Ground Garden. Senior Troop 60648, Cadette Troop 60310, and Junior Troop 60518 spent the morning planting a native plant garden. The native plants were purchased for Common Ground by a grant to SALT from Silicon Valley Bank. Girl Scouts provided the “girl power” to plant them!
“On arriving at the garden, Emily and Paul explained to us how native plants are not only drought resistant but also help the environment by efficiently sequestering carbon.
“They taught us how to break up the hardened soil with a fork and dig with the spade shovel. The Junior Scouts hauled mulch by wheelbarrow for the new garden. The Cadette and Senior Scouts dug the holes for the five-dozen new plants at the designated locations in the garden bed. Older scouts and younger scouts partnered to add compost, place the plants in the new holes, and spread mulch around each plant. Six of us had the challenge of planting a three-foot-tall bush with spikey leaves that poked through jeans and work gloves. We handled it with the utmost care!
“Interspersed with the physical exertion, there were plenty of moments for examining rolly pollies, admiring the variety of shapes and colors of leaves and blossoms, and basking in the beauty and peacefulness of the shaded gardens.
“At the end of the morning, we all initialed a wooden plaque to commemorate our contribution to the project. It was very gratifying work to create a native plant garden that will be long lasting and provide educational opportunities for the greater community that Common Ground Garden serves.”
We at Common Ground Garden are very grateful to everyone who was involved in the project! So far, all of the plants are thriving 🙂
December is a time to regroup and reflect, both on the year past and the year ahead. We are spending a lot of time planning out our coming year in the garden. As you can see, this month’s planting calendar is pretty sparse. The only thing we are putting in the ground this month is the hardy rutabaga (AKA neeps or swedes). We have finished pruning our fruit trees and re-potting and amending perennials. Next month we’ll be learning to plant bare root fruit trees, and after that learning to graft new varieties to the ones we have. Winter seems to be more for the trees than the veggies.