Lake County's First School Garden Conference Inspired by Local Collaborative

On Wednesday, February 26th , educators from across Lake County gathered for a daylong School Garden Conference in Middletown. The conference, organized by the NCO Gardens Project, was a professional development opportunity for those working to incorporate gardening into their students’ education.

Kelseyville Elementary School, Cobb Mountain Elementary School, Riviera Elementary School, Middletown Christian School, Middletown International Charter School, and the Konocti School District all sent representatives to take back information to their respective sites. Many attendees were part of the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, a group of teachers, parents, and administrators who gather seasonally to exchange best practices and work together to address the challenges that face school garden programs.

The School Garden Conference was made possible by the fundraising efforts of Middletown International Charter School. Attendees took part in a variety of learning opportunities where they exchanged ideas about maintaining their school gardens and using them as educational tools. Barbara Howe, Health Services program coordinator of CalFresh Healthy Living, led an interactive activity about connecting the garden to curriculum standards. She demonstrated that a school garden could be a living classroom for evidence- based curriculum on any subject, including Math, Science, and Language Arts.

Cindy Leonard, co- founder of the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, led the group in a discussion about fundraising in the afternoon. Leonard has been involved with the Cobb Mountain Elementary school garden since her daughter attended the school. She says, “School Gardens help our students educationally and emotionally, as well as helping them learn healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for schools to fund these outdoor classrooms. By banding together to form the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, we can leverage resources and find ways to financially support these important gardens.”

Following the fundraising forum, the group visited the Middletown Community Garden for a workshop about soil fertility and compost. The workshop was led by the U.C. Master Gardeners of Lake County. There, educators were joined by many local community gardeners who share a passion for growing fresh, healthy food and were happy to share their insights into gardening in Lake County.

At the end of the day, educators collaborated on a garden planning session. As they looked forward to the upcoming planting season and school year, they developed a timeline of action steps for their gardens and how to continue to make the gardens engaging and educationally valuable for students. While discussing action steps to make their goals a reality, the conversations hinged on fundraising and volunteer efforts.

School garden educators cannot accomplish the goal of bringing gardening to the classroom without the widespread support of their community. If you would like to learn more about the School Garden Collaborative and how you can get involved, email Cindy Leonard at

The Brilliance of Broccoli

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Broccoli is a powerhouse vegetable that can be grown year-round in most parts of our county. It’s undeniably a vegetable that deserves more praise.

Broccoli originated in the Mediterranean, developed from a wild cabbage that was selectively planted for years by the Etruscans in the Tuscany region. The name arose from “broccolo”, the Italian word meaning “the flowering crest of a cabbage”. This veggie was a staple food for the Roman Empire and was brought to England during the mid-18th century. Broccoli wasn’t brought to the United States until the 1920s with the flow of Italian immigrants. Today, China produces the most broccoli in the world, with India producing the second most, and California is responsible for 90% of the United States’ production of broccoli.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, along with brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. This family of vegetables is known for containing cancer preventing compounds and supporting destruction of defective cells. This powerhouse vegetable offers beta-carotene, calcium, choline, copper, fiber, folate, iron, lutein zeaxanthin, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, selenium. thiamine, tryptophan, vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E and K, and zinc. It also contains many anti-inflammatory antioxidants, flavonoids, and omega 3 fatty acids. Glucosinolates are the compounds in broccoli that are responsible for the bitter taste.


Outstanding Olives

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Before the holidays we had an olive brining workshop, reminding us that olive season is ending soon. These little fruits have a lot to offer so be sure to harvest them while you can!

Olives and the Olea europea tree have significance in many cultures and religions. Mythology teaches that the goddess Athena gifted an olive tree to the Greeks, planting the first olive tree on the Acropolis. The oil is often used as holy oil for anointing and blessing bishops, kings, winning athletes, the dead, and for other ceremonial purposes.

Olives are considered a drupe or stone fruit and are one of the most largely produced fruits in the world. The olive tree – originating in Asia Minor, spreading to Mediterranean regions, and then even farther with Roman expansion – is one of the oldest cultivated trees, thrives in rocky soil and lives for hundreds of years. The difference in color of the olive is based on the level of ripeness when harvested – green olives are less ripe, whereas black olives have reached peak ripeness – as well as how long they are cured or soaked in brine. California produces 95% of the United States’ olives, growing mainly the Manzanillo and Sevillano varieties. Globally, Spain is the largest producer, followed by Italy, Greece, Turkey and Tunisia. Of the olives grown in the Mediterranean, 90% are used for olive oil.


Persimmons - Food of the Gods

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! We’re seeing more and more persimmons this time of year. While often an undervalued and misunderstood fruit in the U.S., these beauties offer ample health benefits.

The botanical name of persimmons, diospyros kaki, translates to “food of the gods”. As the name would suggest, they have a sweet flavor that is often compared to honey. While persimmons originated in China, they are the national fruit of Japan. In 1856, seeds from these fruits were sent from Japan to the U.S. where they are now grown throughout states in the south and southwest.

Persimmons are known to have over two thousand cultivars, but the Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons are the most popular varieties. Hachiya are heart-shaped and are high in tannins, giving them a more bitter, astringent taste. You would want to let this variety fully ripen, becoming soft and pulpy before you eat it. Once ripened, these persimmons have a creamy texture and are fantastic baked or used in baked goods. The Fuyu variety on the other hand is not astringent and is commonly eaten before peak ripeness. This tomato-like persimmon is usually peeled and eaten raw. The shape, size and color of persimmons varies widely. A persimmon’s weight could vary from a couple ounces to a pound or more. The beautiful color of this fruit could range from a yellow to orange to red.


Gardening's Ripple Effect: Water Conservation in Lucerne

Today brings a new gardener spotlight in our “pollinator effect” series.

Last week, we introduced you to Susana, a community gardener utilizing her garden plot not only to feed herself and her family, but dozens of people facing cancer. This week, meet Robert Patton, manager of the FLOW community garden in Lucerne.

Rob became involved with the FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water) garden seven years ago. Rising water prices implemented by Cal Water spurred on community organizers to take control of their resources. The FLOW community garden was born out of their organizing efforts and remains part of their legacy.


Gifts from the Garden: Food as Medicine

Over the last couple of weeks, you’ve met some of the folks in the Gardens Project network whose work has ‘the Pollinator Effect’. This week, meet a busy bee who sows health and wellbeing next to her tomatoes and chiles in the garden.

Susana Aguilar has been the manager of the Washington Street Community Garden in Ukiah since it opened its gates over seven years ago. “One thing that is very important to me is to come to the garden and stay busy here,” she says. Susana can often be found weeding pathways, caring for the community herb garden, fixing the compost, or attending to the miscellaneous garden tasks that always seem to spring up. “I don’t just do my plot,” she says, “wherever I see it has something to be done, I do it.”

Susana’s dedication is part of what makes her a good manager, but she also brings exceptional generosity and a lifetime of learning to the community garden. “My father used to plant corn and beans on the mountains,” Susana remembers, “I used to go with my father and help him, pulling weeds from the garden.” After moving to the United States from Mexico, Susana worked on a crew with her husband in the vineyards. Now, she brings her years of knowledge to the community garden. “I just want people to learn from my skills,” says Susana. "I don’t want to tell people what to do… I just want to teach them, share whatever I can do, and if people want to try what I know, they can.”


Rah-Rah Rutabagas!

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! We’re hyping up rutabagas today – a vegetable that is often undervalued.

Rutabagas, also known as swedes, are a hybrid of a turnip and wild cabbage. Rutabagas originated in the 17th century as a hybrid of a wild cabbage and turnip. It’s place of origin is thought to be Bohemia, Russia and Scandinavia. In the 19th century, rutabagas were found to be widespread in England, while also appearing in Canada. Today they are still a common staple food for many Northern European countries.

Fields of swedes are commonly used as food for livestock, but both the root and leaves are edible for humans as well. Rutabaga flesh can be a variety of colors, usually yellow or orange, and the skin tends to be green or purple, with an earthy and sweet flavor.


Gardening Ties Us To Our Cultural Heritage, Entrevista en Inglés y Español

Throughout the month of November, we will be showing gratitude to people in our community whose work has what we like to call the “Pollinator Effect”. Just like pollinators are a small but mighty part of the life cycle in the garden, these people are part of a cycle that is much bigger than themselves. Their impact grows exponentially as it influences friends and family, shapes the minds of youth, creates resiliency, and much more.

Last week, we introduced you to Peggy Backup, an educator who is teaching our younger generations how to care for each other and their world through garden learning. This week, meet Luzmila and Nicolas. Since moving to the United States from Mexico in the 70’s, gardening has served as an important tie to their culture.


A Pharaoh's Pomegranates

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! The abundance of pomegranates is being shared far and wide!

Pomegranates originated in Iran and Northern India and later spread throughout the whole Mediterranean region, including Asia, Africa and Europe. In 1600 BC pomegranates from Syria were brought to Egypt, where they became a highly valued fruit, especially meant for pharaohs, and were often put in tombs and paintings or embroidered on robes of priests and other important people.

Traditionally, pomegranate juice was used in Egypt to treat intestinal worms. The blossom and peel were often used to create a natural dye and even used to dye leather.

Pomegranates became a popular symbol in many cultures and religions and was often a noteworthy detail in Greek myths. The fruit often symbolized fertility and strength, and eternal life was suggested by the leaves remaining green year-round. Buddhism emphasizes three blessed fruits, with the pomegranate being one of them.


Garden Educators Shaping Our Youth

Throughout the month of November, we will be showing gratitude to people in our community whose work has what we like to call the "Pollinator Effect". Just like pollinators are a small but mighty part of the life cycle and keep things growing, these people are part of a cycle that’s much bigger than themselves. Their impact grows exponentially as it influences friends and family, shapes the minds of youth, creates resiliency and much more.

This week, meet Peggy Backup. After five years serving as the Garden Specialist at both Nokomis and Grace Hudson elementary schools, Peggy recognizes the quiet transformative power of something as delicate as a lacewing.



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