It has been such an exciting spring in the garden with great things happening since our last post. We raised the funds to complete the installation of our raised sensory bed; Kennedy Junior High School PLTW classes graciously offered to raise the remaining 4 veggie beds; our organic seed order arrived and our young adults completed the data entry to assist with managing our seeds; our young adults started tomato, pepper, and brussel sprouts in the greenhouse; we built our fence; and we are in the process of pursuing a Seeds of Change grant. We initially planned to lay mulch around the raised beds to counter the impact of sunlight absorption with the black pavement, in turn reducing the effect of creating a heat island, and the Naperville Park District graciously offered to donate the mulch. However, we became concerned that the mulch would not compact in a way that would allow for our young adults that use wheelchairs to traverse between the beds. That led us to pursue a Seeds of Change grant. Should we win, we will use the funds to install a platform around the raised beds. a water feature within our sensory garden, several small planters of dwarf fruit trees, and we will purchase the remaining organic dirt for the beds KJHS students are raising.
Your vote can help us win! Please visit Connections' page in the Seeds of Change Gallery of Growers to vote for our entry. The voting window is open now through April 19th. Please set a reminder to vote every day from all of your devices and spread the word to your family and friends. Every vote counts and we appreciate yours!
How would we use a Seeds of Change grant to help the Naperville community?
There is a national epidemic of unemployed individuals with disabilities in our nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016, 17.1% of the workforce comprised of individuals having a disability, 33% of whom worked part-time. Individuals with disabilities urgently need to develop job skills leading to volunteer experiences or employment. Our communities need to continue developing their understanding of the ways our disability community can contribute. Our goal is creating Farm to Naperville, serving Naperville’s restaurant and farmer’s market community, and a community garden, serving Naperville’s adult disability community via adult day program partnerships. Both opportunities increase community awareness of our students’ ability to grow plants from seed, engage in Monarch Watch, and tend the garden through the seasons; the synthesis of skills needed to sustain a garden and ongoing, natural development of skills that transcend volunteer and employment settings.
What does your garden do to teach people about where their food comes from?
We engage in community trips to grocery stores and talk about the differences between buying processed food and crop that was transported from other states and countries and the impact we glean when we grow our own food. We teach our students how to tend the soil, plant, water, grow, harvest, and prepare food from our organic garden; in turn, engaging in the process as the vehicle to teach our young adults about where their food comes from. Our students learn about nutrition and the subtle taste differences in the variety of vegetables and herbs that we grow. We work with students having medical conditions, sensory deficits and apprehension to experience colors or textures. When our students grow their own food, they are more likely to try it and learn that it tastes good, something they were reluctant to do previously. This, in turn, impacts their interest in learning more about where their food comes from and desire to grow more of their own.
How would you measure success of your program?
We currently measure the success of our program via: harvested crop amount and variety, range of dishes prepared from our crop, number of students that sampled the dishes, noting preferred and non-preferred dishes, and the number of students now preparing their own lunches with our fresh produce. For our community expansion, we plan to measure success via: 1) full creation of Farm to Naperville including successful alignment of raised beds for participating restaurants (targeting 5 with 3 beds remaining for our program), students surveying restaurants to ascertain preferences, and successful crop growth and delivery; and 2) establishment of three adult day programs contributing to the tending and harvest of our crop including a summer gardening schedule.
Connections was thrilled when Rick Li, NCHS Student, Cross Country Athlete, National Honor Society member, and member of Boy Scout Troop #107, selected the Eco Connections Teaching Garden as a part of his journey towards becoming an Eagle Scout. Earning the rank of Eagle Scout is a significant accomplishment and the Boy Scouts of America hold the rank in such high regard that it is considered, "a state of being". There are several requirements along the path towards becoming an Eagle Scout and Rick selected our garden as one of the steps of his journey.
Through our work with Veronica Porter of Veteran's Victory Farm, part of our dreams are to raise our beds so that they can accommodate the space needed for our plants to grow to the best of their abilities while simultaneously allowing our students who use wheelchairs the opportunity to garden alongside their peers. Lynnette Hoole, Naperville Park District Volunteer Coordinator, worked with Rick to share our garden possibilities. Lynnette and Rick discussed the idea, scope of the project, timeframe, and Rick's overarching interests. After sharing our needs with Lynnette and through her conversations and our meeting with Rick, we were overjoyed when Rick decided that he would like to raise 4 of our 8 beds. We talked about the materials, agreed on the new height, and learned that Rick would be learning new woodworking skills along the way.
We had the pleasure of asking Rick several questions about what led him to become a Boy Scout and why he chose our beds as his project:
What drew you to be a part of the Scouts?
I believe that the Scout Motto—“Be Prepared”—well encompasses what Scouting has always meant to me. The organization does a great job of teaching its members how to prepare themselves for everyday life, to react to our circumstances intelligently and productively. Whether we’re out camping in the woods or swimming in a pool, it’s reassuring to know that you’re ready for any situation. Even more important to me, however, is that Boy Scouts places an emphasis on personal growth. In the same way we are to be prepared for, say, a hiking trip, we’re also prepared to give back to our communities and meaningfully affect others’ lives. I joined Scouting to learn how to react to the world around me; I stayed in Scouting to shape the world around me in a positive way.
Why did you select raising our beds as your project?
When I was choosing my project, I wanted to do something that benefited the local school community. The garden beds at Naperville Connections were a great opportunity to bring together students—some of the groups that came out to help included the NCHS Men’s Cross Country team, the NCHS National Honors Society, and my Boy Scout troop—to contribute to our district’s learning environment. My hope was to select a project which aligned with our district’s collaborative culture. I also love gardening and spending time outside, so being able to share that passion was a huge bonus.
Over the course of several weeks, Rick built and routed the frames to raise 4 of our beds. Installation day was a brisk November day and needless to say, it was amazing. Rick not only had his Dad, Boy Scouts, and Scout parents with him, yet he had Cross Country athletes and NHS friends on-hand as well. Rick organized quite a team that was busily working at Connections: securing the frames, moving dirt, and installing the weed barrier.
There aren't enough words to thank Rick for his hard work and Lynnette for identifying our project as an Eagle Scout opportunity. We are so thankful for our Naperville community, the support that we receive, and the way that our community comes together as a team. Thank you Rick; you should be proud, your work is beautiful and we are thankful for you!
You can learn more about Rick's Boy Scout troop here, Troop #107, and about volunteer opportunities within the Naperville Park District here, Volunteer With Naperville Park District.
With the start of the 2016-17 school year, students in our Domestic Family Life class became our Eco Connections Teaching Garden gardeners, tending the garden daily. It is a joy to see our students working with the plants, watering, and harvesting squash, cucumber, and herbs. Additionally, students in our Foods classes have prepared samples from the garden that they serve in The Snack Shack COFFEE + LUNCH BOX including: cucumber water, cucumber sandwiches, and sauteed Lakota squash prepared with homegrown oregano. It is wonderful to watch students try, and enjoy, new foods, especially foods they grew from seed and harvested.
Thanks to the support of the Naperville Education Foundation, we completed the installation of our greenhouse. We were thrilled that our students participated in building the greenhouse, too. The greenhouse allows our students the opportunity to grow plants year-round and start our organic seeds early to be ready for the summer and fall crop. Our students will use the greenhouse for late fall plants and to start herbs, vegetables, and annuals in the spring. Our next step specific to the greenhouse is to install the shelving and get growing.
As a result of our spring Mother's Day Fundraiser, we installed our composter. Our students are learning about composting and have started composting using Eco Connections Teaching Garden and Bloom Room clippings, along with food scraps from Foods classes and lunch. Students add to the composter and rotate the bins daily.
We anticipate installing the lattice fence connecting the shed and greenhouse in late September or early October. We will lay mulch on the blacktop surrounding the beds once the fence is complete. Students planted Swiss Chard, Romaine Lettuce, Salad Bowl Mix, Spinach, Basil, and Kale seeds in our aeroponic Tower Garden this week. We are excited to share that seedlings are already sprouting. Nothing compares to a student grown and prepared salad or Kale smoothie, they are delicious!
The Daily Herald reached out to Veronica Porter, our community garden partner and owner of Veteran's Victory Farm, to write a story about our partnership with the Farm. It was lovely to talk about the purpose and benefits of our work and partnership, share our gardening hopes and dreams, and showcase our students tending the garden. You can read the article here: www.dailyherald.com/article/20160902/news/160909960/ and watch a video here: www.dailyherald.com/article/20160902/news/160909960/. We are appreciative for the lovely article and video showcasing our work.
Lastly, no garden update is complete without sharing the progress of our monarch bed. We are excited to share that every Swamp Milkweed that we received from Monarch Watch is growing. One monarch found us and a range of pollinators visit the garden daily. We have a hummingbird who stops by, too. We are in awe with the range of pollinators, birds, and insects that are attracted to our garden since planting this spring. Our goal is to successfully tag our monarch and track its migration to Mexico.
It's been a while since our last garden update but there has been plenty of preparation and planning going on! Our extended school year students have worked hard watering and weeding the new beds and we now have some sturdy milkweed plants emerging from the seedlings for our Monarch way station!
Following lots of budgeting and sourcing of the correct materials we are also thrilled to share with you that following the very generous donation of time and labour from Dave Innis of DJI Services our wooden raised beds are now made and in situ on the black top in front of the building! We are also so appreciative of the hard work of our custodian Matt who continues to work flexibly and enthusiastically to make all our plans come together.
As you may recall we are planning on producing organic herbs and vegetables - and as a result there are very specific requirements for all our materials to maintain that organic status. Veronica has been guiding this process every step of the way and we have all been learning as we go. As a result the next step is to lay plain, unprinted cardboard on the bottom of the frames which will help with moisture control and then line the frame with organic landscape fabric as a retainer. After that - we can fill with certified organic soil ready for the growing to take place! Veronica already has some seedlings started for us so we hope to have those planted ASAP.
For those of you who generously donated to the Mothers' Day photoshoot fundraiser - the money from that day has so far been spent on a double composter and the 120 cubic feet of organic soil! Two amazing purchases which will keep on giving and giving. Thank you all so much for your invaluable contributions!
As an exciting aside - before the school year ended, Trader Joe's had included some fading potted plants in our weekly Bloom Room donation. Since we are all caring types - even though the plants looked very much on their last legs - we planted them in the raised bed and this week were delighted to see that the lavender is actually flowering! We celebrate even the tiny successes here at Connections!
This week has seen a flurry of activity in the Eco Connections garden project. Hopefully the photos below show some part of what the excitement is about!
As many of you know we are delighted to be working in partnership with Veronica Porter, Master Gardener and Owner and Creative Director of Porter Presentations. Veronica has taken an active role in ensuring we adhere to the principles of organic gardening as we establish the area.
Today Veronica met with the students and staff from ESY to start planting up our new Monarch Way Station. Buildings and Grounds have done a great job clearing the land to the right of our front entrance ready to plant the 32 Milkweed plants which were delivered right before school finished. Take a look at the photos to see the end results!
We lay down cardboard sheets to prevent water run off, stop the new dirt from eroding in the rain, restrict weed growth and to decompose in to the soil for organic matter.
Meanwhile, Matt our trusty Custodian has been working hard building the sheds which were generously donated to us. Both sheds are now standing ready for action! Matt also put together our new wheelchair accessible table and chairs to create a much needed sitting area outside for students to enjoy. We also took delivery of a new trash and recycling bin.
You may be wondering what the fundraiser money has been spent on so far? Yesterday we purchased a brand new double barreled composter which is on Matt’s ‘to do’ list to build when he has a minute between all the other tasks we keep piling on him. THANK YOU MATT!!!
Today marks another exciting development in the EcoConnections garden.
Each year millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the US and Canada to over winter in Mexico and California until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The Monarch migration is one of the world's greatest natural wonders but it is threatened by habitat loss in North America. Monarch Watch is an organization who are promoting and supporting the campaign to 'Bring Back the Monarchs'. To read about their fascinating and important work visit their web page by clicking on the link above.
As part of their campaign they are inviting participants in the Monarch Waystation Program. Connections is delighted today to have taken delivery of 32 Milkweed plants (Asclepius Incarnata) and become officially recognized as a certified Monarch Waystation!
Monarchs need the milkweed plants to host their larvae in the spring and without the nectar Monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to their overwintering grounds in Mexico.
We will keep you posted on the arrival of the butterflies!
We are thrilled to be partnering with both Monarch Watch and The Natural Resources Defense Council who work to safeguard the earth, its people, its plants and the natural systems on which all life depends.
We are VERY excited to share that we are officially "Farmer's Thank America's Teachers" $2,500 grant winners!! We want you to know how thankful we are for all of your support - your daily votes and how you spread the word to your families and friends.
We are planning to use the funds towards the installation of our 10 raised beds that will be in the current parking spaces in front of our building.
We are also excited to share that the School District has completed the installation of the raised beds that are within the walking path, connecting the two patios. The brickwork is stunning and looks beautiful as you can see in the pictures above! The space allows for young adults, who use wheelchairs, to garden and for peers to sit alongside each other as they tend the beds. We are thrilled with progress so far and will continue to keep you updated!
Staff and students returned from Spring Break to discover that work had begun on our garden! Coupled with that came the great news that Maura Anderson's grant application to NEF WOW had been approved and we have been granted funding for purchase of: