TGC News: FAO’s new School Garden Teaching Toolkit!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

FAO’s new Teaching Toolkit

The Food and Agriculture Organization has just released a new companion guide to the “Setting Up and Running a School Garden” manual, which features eight comprehensive, step-by-step lessons for teachers to implement in their class-gardens.

The lessons contain information on everything from garden planning and produce marketing to seed sowing and composting. Each lesson is divided into informative sections: teacher’s notes, objectives, technical content, lesson preparation, lesson activities, lesson follow-ups and guides all geared toward a hands-on learning experience.

The goal of the lessons is to try and “engage learners actively and encourage them to observe and experiment. The reflective element of experiential learning – monitoring, reporting, recording, reviewing, discussing, and listening to others – is built into the lessons.”

Above all, the lessons force students to consider the quality of their own diets, but they also enable the students to make healthy changes to their eating habits. This is a must-read for teachers who have or are considering starting a school garden. It will save hours of logistical planning and provide an excellent jumping-off point for teachers’ own lessons in gardening.

Learn more about the guide whose creed is…

"Tell me, and I will forget.
Show me, and I may remember.
Involve me, and I will understand."

Attributed to Confucius, 450 B.C.

Click here to see an online version of The Teaching Toolkit


Click here
to download a PDF file of The Teaching Toolkit

In the News: Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In early May, we posted a story about herbicide-resistant weeds on the TGC blog. Concern has continued to grow throughout the scientific community, and the Associated Press recently published an article on Roundup-resistant species.

Introduced in the 1970s, Roundup has long been a staple tool of pest management for American farmers. Though Roundup is a chemical herbicide, it was widely considered less toxic than its predecessors. It also allowed farmers to reduce tilling, a significant step toward curbing erosion and fuel consumption. As many as ten plant species have evolved to survive Roundup application, however, and many are concerned that farmers will turn back to less eco-friendly methods of weed management.

Monsanto, the agricultural company that developed Roundup, also introduced Roundup-resistant seeds. The seeds allowed farmers to spray without threatening young crops, and they now account for the vast majority of American soybeans, cotton, and corn. Because Monsanto's products were initially so successful, farmers were able to reduce annual herbicide application by 57 million pounds in 11 years.

The article also cites David Mortensen, a weed scientist at Penn State University who believes more dangerous pesticides could soon rise to prominence. Dicamba and 2,4-D are likely to fill the void, Mortensen said, and both are known to drift beyond the site of application.

Bill Freese, a chemist with the Center for Food Safety, is quoted as saying that America faces "a pesticide treadmill." The more farmers rely on a single herbicide formula, the greater the likelihood that weeds will evolve to meet the challenge.

Click here to read the full article in USA Today.

Click here to read our original blog post on the topic, dated May 4, 2010.

Recipe Box: Sassy Salsa

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From Colonial Trail Elementary School

TGC garden site in Glenn Allen, Virginia (USA)


2 ½ cups chopped tomatoes
½ cup chopped jalapeƱos (without seeds)
½ cup chopped green peppers
¼ cup chopped onion (yellow, white or red)
½ tsp crushed garlic
¼ tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp white vinegar
Salt & black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Serve chilled with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Compost in the City

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Last week, The Washington Post printed a column on the value of compost in urban environments. The following question was sent to Nina Shen Rastogi, an environmental writer based in Brooklyn, New York and columnist for Slate Magazine:

“I live in an apartment in the city with zero outdoor space, and I don’t have any plants that would benefit from compost. Is there any reason at all, then, why I should be composting my food scraps?”

Rastogi replied that composting is important for both rural and urban communities, and emphasized that it can easily be accomplished within the confines of an apartment. Electric composters can simplify the task for cautious roommates, and these units generally consume only a minimal amount of energy.

Allowing food to decompose before throwing it away can reduce its landfill volume by 80 percent. Composting is also beneficial from the perspective of climate regulation, as properly composted food scraps produce only water and carbon dioxide as byproducts. When left in oxygen-depleted landfills, food waste often creates methane–a greenhouse gas with over twenty times the heat-trapping potential of CO2.

If you’re interested in composting but unsure of the next steps, Rastogi recommends contacting local schools and community gardens. These organizations may appreciate compost donations, and they can also provide tips and tricks along the way. In New York City, residents are free to place homemade compost around any trees on the street … Check local rules and regulations to make sure you distribute compost properly in your community.

Rastogi also mentions the benefits of vermicomposting. For more information on this technique, check out yesterday’s blog post (6/28).

Click here to read Rastogi’s column in The Washington Post.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Vermi-composting, also known as worm-composting, is the process of using worms to break down waste into soil-enriching compost. The worm castings contain humic acids that enrich soil and act as a natural pesticide. Worm-composting is easier to maintain than your typical outdoor compost bin system (the worms do all the work for you), and it proves environmentally friendly by reducing the waste that would otherwise go to landfills.

To get started, follow these instructions from Nancy Kreith, a master gardener with the University of Illinois Extension, and TGC’s Chicago-area Coordinator …

Step 1: Find a bin

Start with a 10-gallon (38-liter), dark, covered container. Drill about 50 1/8” holes into the container’s lid.

Step 2: Create the bedding

Shred newspaper. (Don’t use glossy paper, because the worms won’t be able to digest the wax.) Moisten the shredded paper with water until it feels as wet as a wrung-out spunge. Finally, add one pound of red wrigglers (approximately 1000 worms) and a handful of soil.

Step 3: Feed the worms

Do not feed the worms more than they can consume–1/2 pound to 1 pound of scraps per day. Worms are capable of breaking down the following food scraps: fruit and vegetable peels, crushed egg shells, used coffee filters with grounds, and used tea bags. Avoid any form of animal bones, meat, fish, poultry, mayonnaise, cheese, and butter.

Step 4: Maintain your compost

Add more shredded paper if the bedding becomes too wet, and add water if it becomes too dry. If you notice worms on the walls or lid of the bin, your bedding mixture may be off balance. The key to keeping happy worms is feeding them raw kitchen waste on a regular basis.

Step 5: Harvest your compost

The food and newspaper should be fully decomposed after about three months. It’s time to separate the worms from the compost when you see only trace amounts of food in your bin. What remains should be a dark, rich, soil-like matter.

For more information on vermicomposting, check out the TGC summer newsletter. Not on our mailing list? Send an email to with the subject line “Subscribe to Newsletter.”

Eating Local: Find a Farmers Market!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You can find names and locations — both of markets and the farms themselves — at Even if you live in an urban area, you might be pleasantly surprised by your local food options. Different vegetables have different growing seasons … what’s your favorite vegetable of June?

Farming Outside the Box: Global Buckets

What Can You Do with Two Buckets, a Pipe and a Cup?

The Buster brothers of Boulder, Colorado can efficiently grow fruits and vegetables of any kind. The 17 year old Grant Buster and the 15 year old Max Buster decided to try and mimic the EarthBox design with what they call, “locally sourced free or low cost recycled materials.” They have since created Global Buckets, which utilizes not much more than a pair of five-gallon buckets, ten cents worth of PVC pipe and a plastic cup (video after the jump)...

After some holes are drilled in one bucket, the pieces are fitted together, and it is ready for planting. Their ‘sub-irrigation planter’ design allows the potting mix to wick water up from the bottom reservoir into the roots of the plant all while keeping the soil aerated and weed-free. This self-contained system can be put anywhere from a rooftop to an industrial wasteland as long as there is sun. Grant and Max also added an automatic watering system made up of siphoning tubes, which keep all of the water reservoirs at equal levels and uses zero energy.

The beauty of the Global Buckets is that they do not need to be shipped across oceans to be implemented. “The resources are everywhere,” says Max, a rising sophomore at Fairview High School. The information is what must be implemented. Grant, who will be a UC Berkeley freshman next fall, said, “In a perfect world, we would travel to developing countries and teach people to build the Global Buckets ourselves, but we both have school and jobs.”

For now though, people from around the world visit their website daily for instructional videos about their designs and planting advice. And when a friend of theirs in the Peace Corps told them that many people in developing nations are hesitant to drill holes in their buckets for fear of needing the buckets again, they began developing new systems including the “Clay Pot System” and “Garbage Gardening.” The first system uses terracotta pots for the water reservoir to eliminate the need to drill holes in the bucket, and the second system replaces potting soil with cheap or free materials like newspapers to wick water up to the plants.

Possibly the best part of Grant and Max’s Global Buckets program is that they are constantly experimenting with even cheaper and more accessible designs. This allows for a constant improvement in the designs and encourages people from around the world to join in with their experiments. They enjoy the engineering-based problem solving, but the ultimate goal of activism is always in their minds.

Congratulations to the Buster brothers for coming up with new designs for growing food. Have you heard of any other growing innovations that you would like to share with the TGC network? Tell us about it! In the meantime, check out the Buster brother’s website below to learn more about what they’re up to.

Nutrition Facts: Sodium

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slash your Sodium & Salt Intake
High sodium diets can raise the risk of stroke, hypertension and heart disease. Processed foods are the main culprit behind high-sodium diets so try to eat more fresh produce!
-Click here to see an extensive list of tips to slash your sodium intake
Read in Under 60 Seconds…
-Click here to learn five tips to slash your sodium intake and see if you are in an at-risk group.

What is Fiber?

Fiber, found in all fresh vegetables, fruits and grains, is essentially a carbohydrate, except it cannot be broken down into a single sugar molecule in the digestive system. This means that instead of passing into the bloodstream, like regular carbs, fiber is not absorbed but works its way straight down the digestive tract. Click here to learn more.

Read in Under 60 Seconds…
Click here to see a recipe for a fiber-rich meal.

Book Corner

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are you interested in starting your own garden? Do you have students or children who would like to learn more about fruits and vegetables? The Growing Connection invites you to visit our Book Corner, a special section of the blog reserved for reading suggestions. We plan to post titles for all age groups, ranging from picture books to more advanced publications on issues like food security. If you have a favorite book about gardening or agriculture, please let us know!

TODAY'S PICK: Water, Weed, and Wait

This new picture book, written by Edith Hope Fine and Angela Halpin, will be released in August (8/10/2010). It follows the story of Miss Marigold, a teacher at Pepper Lane Elementary who works with her students to create a garden in their schoolyard. With help from the community, students harvest flowers and vegetables.

Farming Outside the Box:

"Growing Power" Thrives in Milwaukee

In 1993, Will Allen purchased an abandoned nursery on the north side of Milwaukee. Hoping to employ local teenagers and grow fresh food for his community, he transformed two acres into a productive, sustainable farm named Growing Power. Fifteen years later, Allen became the second farmer ever to receive a McArthur Genius Grant, honored for his innovative work in sustainable food systems and agricultural education.

Though additional sites have developed throughout Wisconsin and Chicago, Milwaukee remains the headquarters for Growing Power projects. Allen’s farm currently includes six greenhouses (home to vegetables, herbs, hydroponic fish runs, and vermicompost bins), four hoop houses for vegetables and vermicomposting, three hoop houses for poultry, an apiary with five bee hives, outdoor areas for livestock, and an anaerobic digester to generate energy from farm waste. Individuals and school groups are welcome to tour the farm’s facilities, and Allen also offers volunteer and internship opportunities.

Allen’s vision of a healthier Milwaukee is embodied in the farm’s motto: “Grow, Bloom, Thrive.” Everything is raised to organic standards, free from synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals. His application of vermiculture, for example, not only ensures that soil is nutrient-rich, but also guarantees that soil has not been exposed to toxins such as lead. (Milwaukee has long struggled with high blood-lead levels in children, predominantly from peeling lead-based paint in older homes.) Allen is highly selective about his seed vendors, and plants only organic seeds in each of the farm’s 15,000 pots.

Click here for more information about the aquaponics system in Allen's hoop houses. The decision to raise fish alongside vegetables in just one example of the innovative farming practices at Growing Power.

While the Milwaukee farm predominantly serves city residents, Allen is also vocal about food justice and sustainable agriculture on a national scale. He speaks about environmental responsibility, the development of local food networks, and the importance of eliminating food deserts. After receiving the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008, Allen won a Ford Foundation Leadership Grant in 2009 and appeared on TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2010. He continues to speak across the country, and will be speaking at a conference in Washington, DC on June 18.

Click here for more information about Will Allen and Growing Power.

Click here for Growing Power’s schedule of upcoming events, and look for a chance to meet Will Allen in your hometown!


KEYWORDS for this post:

Apiary: Sometimes called a “bee yard,” apiaries are areas designated for bee hive management. While beekeepers can harvest honey from the hives, many farmers maintain hives to assist with crop pollination.

Food desert: An area isolated from fresh and nutritious food, food deserts are often found in low-income, urban areas. They lack access to even conventional supermarkets, and fast food restaurants or convenience stores may be the only local sources of groceries.

Hoop house: A low-cost alternative to traditional greenhouse structures, hoop houses have a plastic roof stretched over flexible piping. The plastic retains heat absorbed from the sun, allowing plants to grow even during cold weather.

Vermicomposting: A composting process that allows worms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Farming Outside the Box:

A Farm That Doesn't Feed Its Animals

Veta La Palma is a fish farm, among other things, located on an island ten miles inland of the Atlantic Ocean on the Guadalquivir River. In the 1980's, Argentine farmers failed to build a successful beef-cattle farm on its wetlands. They built a system of canals to drain the wetlands so the cattle could live off of the land, but the expenses were too great and the ecological effects were too devastating to control. Around ninety percent of the birds died and the ecosystem began to collapse.
After the cattle business failed, Veta La Palma opened up the gates to the canals and flooded its 27,000 acre space to become a fish farm. The ecosystem has recovered and is so healthy that the fish, which include sea bass, meagre and sole, eat naturally occurring shrimp and other aquatic invertebrates. This means that the farmers do not have to feed their fish.

Healthy fish, however, mean healthy predators. The bird population, mainly flamingos, has regrown and flourished on a diet of shrimp and fish since the wetlands were flooded. In a TIME interview Miguel Medialdea from Veta La Palma said, "They take about 20% of our annual yield, but that just shows the whole system is working." And so the farmers determine the success of their farm by the health of its predatory population, an interesting irony in the world of aquaculture.

Another benefit of the farm's ecological health is the micro algae and other plant life in the water, which pulls much of the excess fertilizer runoff out of the waters that flow into the farm from the Guadalquivir. The water that leaves the farm is cleaner than when it entered.

And so Veta La Palma is not only an extremely efficient fish farm, harvesting 1,200 tons of fish a year, it has inadvertently become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of migrating aquatic birds and has a positive impact on the surrounding environment.

This truly seems like a positive future for aquaculture.

DC Council Approves the Healthy Schools Act

Thursday, May 27, 2010

First the bad news...
  • Nearly half the children in D.C. are overweight or obese.
  • In some parts of the District, more than 70% of residents are overweight or obese.
  • DC has the highest rate of adolescent obesity in the United States.

Depressing statistics like these were what motivated DC Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) to take action by introducing the Healthy Schools Act. The great news is that the DC Council recently passed and funded the Act!

The Healthy Schools Act aims to improve the nutrition, health and wellness of kids in DC. Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Raising the nutritional standard and quality of school meals by bringing in more local fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias.
  • Tripling the amount of physical and health education taught in DC schools.
  • Establish school gardens as integral components of school and public charter schools.

    The last provision is key to improving the health and nutritional status of DC school children, because we have consistently seen that kids become more enthusiastic about eating fresh, nutritious food when they are involved in the growing process.

    TGC shares the goals of the Healthy Schools Act (especially since we are based in DC), and the DC Council’s decision to pass it is a crucial first step to improving the nutrition, health, and wellness of DC school children.

    Sign the Petition to End Hunger Now

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    FAO recently launched the 1 Billion Hungry online petition: The 1 Billion Hungry campaign aims to bring attention to the more than 1 billion people around the world who suffer from chronic hunger. Please join us in getting mad that 1 billion people in the world are hungry and sign the petition.

    Photos from the worldwide campaign are available on the 1 Billion Hungry Flickr page.

    You can also watch videos on the 1 Billion Hungry YouTube channel through this link.

    Finally, you can read FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf’s Huffington Post blog on the campaign here.

    The Growth of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Farmers frequently consider weeds to be the most serious threat to their harvest. Some experts estimate that weeds cause $95 billion a year in lost food production at a global level.

    A recent New York Times article examines the problems caused by the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds.

    For years farmers across America used the herbicide glysophate, also popularly known as Roundup, to effectively deal with weeds. However, the excessive use of glysophate has led to the growth of herbicide-resistant weeds.

    Ten glysophate-resistant weeds have now been detected in at least 22 US states, infesting millions of acres. To deal with these persistent weeds, farmers are increasingly using more herbicides that cause even more damage to the environment.

    We are glad to say that the TGC vegetable gardens do not suffer from the same problem, and that they do not contribute to excessive use of herbicides. The EarthBox’s mulch cover prevents weeds from taking root, so it eliminates the need to use any herbicides.

    Gardening Workshop Opportunity

    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    Do you live near Philadelphia and have an interest in improving your gardening skills? Check out this exciting kitchen gardening workshop…

    This Spring and Fall, a long time friend of The Growing Connection and a world-renowned expert on growing heirloom vegetables, William Woys Weaver, is holding a series of gardening workshops at his Devon, Pennsylvania kitchen plot.

    Dr. Weaver is the Director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism and a Contributing Editor at Mother Earth News. His book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening is considered a classic on this subject.

    We thought you might be interested in this unique opportunity. Dr. Weaver nurtures and propagates over 3000 heirloom variety vegetables in his garden every year, and has a wealth of knowledge to impart.

    The three part class series (mix and match class dates available May through October) will cover “Everything You Will Need to Know to Launch Your Own Kitchen Garden”. For more information on this opportunity, click here.

    The Obesity-Hunger Paradox in US Cities.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    A recent article in the New York Times examines the seemingly contradictory relationship between obesity and hunger in many poor urban neighborhoods in the U.S.

    It seems counterintuitive that communities struggling with obesity could also be suffering from hunger, but this is frequently the case in poor urban neighborhoods. A recent Food Research and Action Center survey found that South Bronx, New York, a county with consistently high obesity rates, also has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country.

    Hunger and obesity doesn't only occur in the same neighborhood, but often afflicts the same household, and even the same person. Increasingly, the hungriest people in America today are not skinny, but overweight. This is why hunger and obesity are not parallel issues, but “flipsides of the same malnutrition coin” says Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

    One of the primary causes of this obesity-hunger paradox in cities is low-income households' limited access to affordable, fresh nutritious food. Many urban neighborhoods are underserved by supermarkets that stock affordable nutritious food. However, there are usually a multitude of food-vendors that sell cheap, high-calorie foods with low nutritional value.

    As a result, this hunger-obesity problem cannot be solved by simply increasing access to food, but by increasing access to the right kinds of food.

    The Growing Connection aims to be a part of this solution by giving urban communities the opportunity to grow and consume fresh nutritious food. We work with young people, women’s groups, schools and urban farmers in several large U.S. cities to develop highly efficient and innovative urban vegetable gardens. TGC can have a particularly positive impact for children in urban neighborhoods. We have consistently seen that kids become more enthusiastic about eating healthy vegetables when they are involved in the growing process.

    Supporting The Growing Connection One Search at a Time

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Imagine that you could support your favorite cause simply by searching the internet. GoodSearch (powered by Yahoo!) offers one of the easiest ways to support The Growing Connection by letting you do just that.

    Every time you use GoodSearch to search the internet, fifty percent of the ad revenue generated by your search results will be donated to the charity, school or nonprofit organization of your choice. All you have to do to support TGC’s work is to choose TGC (under the name "United States Committee for FAO") as your favorite cause on the GoodSearch website and start searching. To make it even easier to support TGC initiatives through your internet searches you can download the GoodSearch toolbar here. The GoodSearch toolbar provides easy access to GoodSearch on your web browser.

    GoodSearch also recently expanded to include GoodShop, an online shopping mall of established merchants dedicated to helping fund worthy causes across the country. Every time you purchase something through the GoodShop mall, a donation - averaging approximately 3% of the sale, but going up to 20% or even more – will be made to TGC.

    Easy no? So what are you waiting for? Get searching and shopping and feel good doing it!

    Moving towards Healthier School Lunches

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    The Child Nutrition Act (CNA) is due to be reauthorized this year by the United States Congress. The CNA includes the National School Lunch Program, which provides school lunches to some 31 million US children. Slow Food USA, a non-profit with the goal of creating a world in which everyone can enjoy food that is good, clean and fair, has organized a petition to urge members of Congress to invest more in school lunches and improve the nutritional value of school lunches. You can support Slow Food’s petition here.

    First Lady Michelle Obama’s recently unveiled ‘Let’s Move’ initiative to counter childhood obesity in America also supports greater investment in school lunches to improve the health and well-being of school children. You can hear the First Lady talk about the program in the video below. You can also find out more about the Let’s Move initiative by following this link.

    Recovery Efforts in Haiti

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Haiti is struggling to recover from the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck near Port-Au-Prince on January 13. Recent estimates suggest the earthquake claimed more than 100,000 lives and left nearly a million Haitians homeless.

    Since 2008 TGC has worked with Project Medishare, a non-profit organization that provides health care for more than 75,000 Haitians. Project Medishare doctors are currently providing vital medical relief on the ground in Haiti. You can follow Project Medishare's work in Haiti here.

    Prior to the earthquake, TGC and Project Medishare worked together to develop EarthBox vegetable gardens in Haiti’s central plateau, one of the country’s poorest regions. The TGC-Project Medishare partnership is ideal because sustainable agriculture and access to healthy food are key to improving community health care.

    A trial garden using 20 EarthBoxes was initially set up to explore which locally-grown vegetables would flourish in the EarthBox, and to develop local mediums and planting methods. Following the success of these trials, EarthBox vegetable gardens have been set up in five elementary schools in the villages of Thomonde and Marmont and a local clinic in Marmont. A group of poor, at-risk adolescents called IDEJEN (Young Idea) has also been involved in the project, receiving hands-on training in growing produce using the EarthBox. This work will become vital once immediate relief efforts come to an end and attention shifts to Haiti's long-term reconstruction.

    If you would like to help us achieve this goal, please visit or

    The Growing Connection in South Africa

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    In partnership with Operation Lionheart and the Open Society Institute, TGC is currently developing several EarthBox vegetable gardens in South Africa. So far, in addition to a large demonstration and research garden, there are four EarthBox vegetable gardens with over 500 EarthBoxes in the country. Thanks to the ongoing support from Operation Lionheart each site receives horticultural training and they are already starting to make real progress.

    For example, the Mother of Peace orphanage in Johannesburg (above) has a garden with 1000 EarthBoxes and in only six weeks after planting they have been able to harvest vegetables such as spinach and zucchini twice. The progress these gardens in South Africa have made in a very short amount of time is very exciting and you can continue to follow their progress through this blog!