Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Planning a Healthy Snack!

It's that time of the school year again!  As the end of the quarter approaches we like to celebrate our time in the garden together with a healthy school-grown snack.  As preparation we spent this week learning about nutrition, focusing on the kinds and amounts of foods that make our bodies happy and healthy.

Our scholars learned that scientists have developed MyPlate, a special guide to help us understand different food groups and how much of each we should eat as part of a healthy meal.  Scholars shared their favorite foods and gave examples from each of the five groups such as strawberries for fruit, broccoli for vegetables, pasta for grains, crawfish for proteins, and cheese for dairy.

Some of our kindergarten scholars learned the words "proteins," "grains," and "dairy," for the first time.  We reinforced these words by playing that challenged scholars to group foods into different MyPlate categories.  Foods like bananas and carrots were easy to group, but some foods fit into more than one category such as pizza or red beans and rice!

1st grade shared stories about their favorite foods and identified some that we can grow in the garden and some that we cannot.  2nd grade scholars wrote out their favorite foods on sticky notes then made a MyPlate for the class by posting the stickies onto the board.  We compared our class's plate to the actual MyPlate and learned that we were eating more than enough vegetables, but that maybe we could use some more fruit!

3rd and 4th grade scholars examined the nutrition facts of several food containers to figure out the different nutrients that we get from each food group.  Scholars concluded that no single food group gives us everything we need, so we should eat a variety of foods to stay healthy.

 4th grade scholar examine the nutrition facts of different foods such as oatmeal, ketchup and peanut butter

At the end of each class scholars split up into groups to explore the garden and plan our healthy snack using our very own fruits and vegetables.  The most rewarding part of having a garden, after all, is getting to take a bite out of it!

1st grade scholars plan their healthy garden snack together!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Dreamkeeper Garden Gets a New Neighbor!

Change is in the air and on the ground at the Dreamkeeper Garden!  Just a few weeks ago at our last garden work day we built a chicken coop and added more lasagna layers to our space.  Not 10 days later the garden got a very special new neighbor: a beautiful and colorful new playground!

The playground was made possible through the generous help of KaBoom!, a national non-profit, "dedicated to saving play for America's children."  KaBoom! has built over 2000 playgrounds across the United States including more than 70 in New Orleans alone!

On the morning of Monday, February 6th over 200 volunteers gathered in the courtyard to split into different build teams for the different parts of the playground.  KaBoom! planned to finish construction before the end of the school day, an ambitious but exciting goal.

Within minutes volunteers were hard at work mixing concrete, attaching wood for benches, shoveling and transporting woodchip mulch, assembling different sections of playground, building a sandbox, leveling ground for a basketball court, and transplanting shrubs for a butterfly garden.

Volunteers painting a mural (L) and transporting concrete (R)

As the hours flew by the playground came slowly to life.  Soft mulch piled up around the feet of the tall black poles holding up red playground platforms.  Scattered two-by-fours gathered and grew into beautiful wooden benches and picnic tables.  A bare section of fence collected reds, greens, blues and yellows as it began to read "Dream it, Do it, Be it."  The white and many-traingled Superdome, fully assembled in record time, found its final resting place next to the seesaws.

Volunteers hard at work on different sections of the playground

With the deadline approaching all attention turned to the mulch.  A hill-shaped pile loomed just beyond the boundary fence, the last challenge to overcome for tiring volunteers.  Working with the camaraderie and rhythm of skilled musicians, the volunteers steadily shrank the pile to the ground as its contents filled the final gaps on the playground.

Right as the clock struck 2:30, we had done it!  We had built an entire playground in less than a day!  We celebrated our incredible accomplishment with a performance by the LHA Marching Band, followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony that included several elementary school scholars and community leaders.  The ribbon itself was assembled from thank-you cards from dozens of LHA students, a token of gratitude for the hard work and sacrifice of all who helped.

The LHA Marching Band performs (L) shortly before the ribbon-cutting ceremony (R)

The garden has a beautiful, shining, exciting new neighbor that we're so grateful for.  Every day after garden class scholars will now be able to enjoy a space designed and built especially for them.

Special thanks to all of our volunteers and especially to Verint Systems for their extremely generous donation to make our playground possible.
One of several new benches, before and after

The playground space before (L) and after (R)
A beautiful new mural and picnic table

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winter Volunteer Work Day!

On Saturday, January 28th the Dreamkeeper Garden hosted its first volunteer work day of 2012!  Over 40 people sacrificed their Saturday mornings to get an early start at 9:00AM for more than four hours of hard work in and around the garden.  Volunteers included students from Tulane University, employees from the Hyatt Regency, folks from New Orleans Outreach, and even a recent LHA alumnus!

After a quick volunteer orientation in the courtyard everyone split up into teams and got right to work.  The first team started construction on a chicken coop that will occupy one of the far corners of the garden, just past some colorful fence paintings and next to the compost.  When it's done the coop will house six chickens that will bear eggs!

Two fourth-grade scholars who are looking forward to having chickens in the garden!

Most of our volunteers were put to work continuing to build lasagna layers using our special recipe for creating soil!  First, volunteers laid down cardboard to act as a weed barrier, followed by mulch to create a good walking surface and to add carbon.  Using blue string as a guide, volunteers then made rows using nitrogen-rich coffee grounds, and topped that off with a thick layer of horse stable sweepings.

Volunteers spread materials out to create our lasagna layers for building soil.

By early afternoon the lasagna layers were complete!  Raised rows of light-brown stable sweepings alternated with darker brown mulch pathways to create our future growing space for the Dreamkeeper Garden.  With diligent watering our lasagna layers will break down into beautiful garden soil in just a few short months, and by next school year we'll have 700 more linear feet of growing space!

Lasagna layers, shortly after completion

The Dreamkeeper Garden is growing and transforming right before our eyes!  By this time next year we'll be harvesting a huge winter crop of leafy greens, herbs and flowers and plucking fresh, local and delicious eggs from our chicken coop.

We want to give a big LHA-style shout out for all the community, leadership, affection, success, sacrifice and enthusiasm demonstrated to us and to our garden by our wonderful volunteers.  We hope you'll come back to see the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labor!