Recently, I had the privilege to work with two sixth grade classes taught by a gifted educator in Ventura Unified School District, Anne Morningstar. Ms. Morningstar is the best kind of teacher: one who teaches superbly by inspiring her students to develop a love of learning, to think outside the box, and to apply what they learn. In the words of more than one sixth-grader, "she rocks!" I agree.
I spent some time discussing the concept of sustainable food systems with each class. We also discussed how fortunate these students are to live in an area that is so abundant and diverse in terms of the food that is produced. The students asked wonderful questions and offered thoughtful answers to the questions that I posed.
Each table group worked collaboratively to develop ideas and answers for six different discussion points about food systems, their role as consumers, and how they can encourage others their age to take positive actions to improve their school food system, decrease the food mile, and take a more active and informed role as consumers.
The result of their work was amazing, and will be posted on the VictoryGrower site in the next few days. I encourage you to check back to see the ideas that these students provided.
A few days after our discussion, I received a stack of cards from these remarkable students. More than a few described their home gardening efforts. I was not surprised that quite a few of these students gardened at home. After all, these are youth who have participated in Ventura Unified's Healthy School Project, which not only provides a wonderful farm-to-school program through its cafeterias, but also has a linked program that encourages school gardens. A number of the students had enjoyed farm-fresh produce from their school salad bar, and had also gardened with me during their six years at Loma Vista Elementary School. And Ventura County, as a whole, has a history of success in nurturing school garden programs, from the top down, and the bottom up. It's been a wonderful thing to watch and be part of. Clearly, exposure to these kinds of programs in school will positively influence behavior outside of school.
Most of the students, though, described what they dreamed of growing. If they read this, I'd encourage each of them to take the next step, to make the commitment to become a VictoryGrower by making a home garden their family's project this spring. It's the perfect time to pick up a hoe, make a family memory, and anticipate wonderful eating this summer.
I know that some have already started. During my recent visit, I gave each student vegetable seeds. When I visited the school again today, a student came up to me and said the seeds he'd planted had already sprouted. He was very excited. And so was I. Congratulations, Andrew, on being a VictoryGrower!
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in A Garden."
An article in the Los Angeles Times gardening section today takes on weeds -- especially those that were deliberately introduced by nurseries for landscaping purposes but have naturalized, spread wildly and are crowding out native species that provide wildlife habitat.
Freelance writer Emily Green centered her story on the UC ANR publication "Weeds of California and Other Western States" by UC Davis Cooperative Extension weed specialist Joseph M. DiTomaso. In an interview with Green, DiTomaso said pampas grass is a perfect example of a landscape plant gone wild.
Pampas grass was introduced by a Santa Barbara nursery in 1848, according to the article. When commercial production began in 1874, the plants were propagated by dividing them at the root, and only females were selected for their superior plumes.
"To simplify the process, they turned to seeds and planted the seeds and sold plants as tufts before they flowered, so they did not know if they were males or females," DiTomaso was quoted. "Males got out in the environment and boom, within about 15 years, the plant became an invasive problem. We actually had the solution, but we didn't stick with it."
Other common landscape plants that have turned into difficult weeds are salt cedar, arundo, English and Algerian ivy, ice plant, periwinkle and nasturtiums.
To address the problem, the article says a diversity of groups -- including Sustainable Conservation, the UC Davis Arboretum, Nature Conservancy, California Farm Bureau, California Native Plant Society, Huntington Botanical Gardens, California Department of Food and Agriculture and California Assn. of Nurseries and Garden Centers -- worked together to form an organization called PlantRight, www.plantright.org. It doesn't mention UCCE.
PlantRight has started its effort by enlisting UCCE's Master Gardeners to find landscape plants the group has identified as weeds in local nurseries. The group will then ask nurseries to take the offending plants off their shelves, the story said.
An interesting side note: In her article, Green officially christens the word "invasive" a noun.
UC Cooperative Extension 4-H and environmental horticulture advisor Rose Hayden-Smith provided information about California school gardens to an Associated Press writer who was reporting on the growing popularity of school gardens in the United States.
The story focused on a concrete schoolyard in hurricane-recovering New Orleans that has been transformed into a garden. It appears that writer Janet McConnaughy was looking for national numbers on school gardens, but noted that difinitive data are scarce. She wrote that the National Gardening Association's online registry lists 1,500 school gardens, up from 1,100 a year ago, and she spoke to Hayden-Smith for information on California's school gardens.
Hayden-Smith told the reporter that California alone had about 1,000 instructional school gardens in 1995 and triple that number by 2000. Nearly 3,850 schools - more than 40 percent of all state schools - got state grants last year to begin or improve gardens, according to the article.
KPIX in San Francisco noted that UC Davis entomologist James Carey told a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee that the decision by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to conduct aerial spraying for the light brown apple moth is "scientifically misguided" and that there are "other tools" that can be used to control the agricultural pest.
Like paparazzi chasing a celebrity, Bay Area media have vigilantly followed the whereabouts and goings-on of California's newest exotic pest, the light brown apple moth. ANR scientists continue to be a valuable source of information.
Today, the Berkeley Daily Planet quoted UC Berkeley entomology professor Miguel Altieri. According to the article, Altiere said CDFA's plan to eradicate the light brown apple moth “is like the 9-11 terrorist policy applied to agriculture."
On Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about health problems associated with moth pheromone treatments designed to eradicate LBAM.
Reporter Jane Kay interviewed Ron Tjeerdema, a UC Davis toxicology professor and a member of the state agricultural department's task force on the aerial spraying. According to the article, he said he reviewed the list of ingredients and didn't find anything of particular concern, adding that the ingredients are found in other products.
But Megan Schwarzman, a research scientist in UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, cautioned that just because the chemicals are found in other products "doesn't indicate their toxicity or their safety," Kay's story says.
For all the latest scientific information on LBAM, read the current issue of California Agriculture journal. The cover story will tell you "everything you always wanted to know about LBAM but were afraid to ask," according to managing editor Janet Byron. Byron wrote a news release, being distributed to the media today, that gives a synopsis of the article's content.