Summer FLP: Greenhouses

Greenhouse1

Greenhouse2

This summer, Landscape Services and the Harvard Community Garden built two greenhouses at the garden.

The plans, selected by a group at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, were intended to be an easy and replicable model, to serve as possible inspiration for those with backyard space and an interest in building greenhouses.

You can find the plans for the greenhouses hereWe discovered that the plans do require some machinery (at least a circular saw, power drill, staple gun). Landscape Services also laid a foundation for us, to ensure that the greenhouse would stay fixed in the ground.

We worked with the Harvard University Disability Services to ensure that one of the greenhouses was fully accessible. Below are our modifications to the basic greenhouse design to ensure accessibility:

  • removed the 2” X 4” at the entrance of the greenhouse to ensure that there was no lip
  • accessible door technology so door can be opened with a closed fist
  • garden table heights 28”-34”, with a clearance of 19” below
  • pathways of at least 36” at entrance
  • a turning circle for wheelchairs of 60”

Most of the modifications were very slight and completely worth the time and effort to ensure that the greenhouses are accessible to all.

The result is two greenhouses, one fully accessible, that will allow the garden to extend the growing season and intensify the peak growing season.

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Summer FLP: Skillshares at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard

Best Bees at Farmers' Market at HarvardAn observation frame from Best Bees visits the Farmers’ Market at Harvard, 8/16.

This was the first season of skillshares at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard. Below is a partial list of the skillshares offered at the market.

  • BU Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Sciences: The Effect of Till Agriculture
  • Helen Snively and the Harvard Community Gardeners: Bins, Worms, and Tea – Three Ways to Compost
  • Cape Ann Fresh Catch: How to Fillet a Fish
  • Stephanie Zabel and Dr. Jennifer Zartarian: Common Herbs & Their Medicinal Uses
  • Florrie Wescoat and Aline Newton: Harvard Yard Tree Walk, Knowing the Trees of Cambridge
  • David Craft: Foraging for Wild Edible Plants around Boston
  • Anne Zielinski: Fundamentals of Canning with the League of Urban Canners
  • Kelly Allin: Beekeeping Basics with Best Bees
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The Food Lab for Kids

Bonnie Lei ’15, Currier FLP rep, describes her first semester piloting The Food Lab for Kids at Harvard.

“I don’t like cheese” Dennis declared to me at the Cambridge Area IV Youth Center in his middle school-I’ve decided it’s settled -matter-of-fact way.  I ask some more questions, and realize that this opinion is based on a diet of Kraft Singles and packaged string cheese.  But The Food Lab for Kids in session, and in addition to cooking up fun and delicious science lessons, we aim to showcase real, healthy food in all its glory.  Acclaimed cheesemaker Lourdes Smith of Fiore di Nonno, glanced over my shoulder and gave Dennis a knowing smile “We’ll see about that little buddy.  Wait until you taste real cheese you make yourself!”  Ten minutes later, after our students learned a quick lesson on curds and whey, our dozen students have their sleeves rolled up, marveling at their ability to stretch their own curds into string cheese in splashing tubs of hot water.

The Food Lab for Kids all began with an idea.  I have long had a passion for the sciences, which was sparked by research opportunities at a young age that showed me how exciting science could be when I could investigate my own questions and hypotheses.  Realizing how lucky I was, I became dedicated to ensuring that young students are able to have an engaging early exposure to the sciences, whether it is locally in my community or as far away as Nepal and Uganda.  In thinking of ways that science can be made accessible and even fun, I often think of my own kitchen experiments.  In crafting a new recipe, I regularly go through several tests, making educated tweaks to ingredients or cooking method to try to make the creamiest milkshake or flakiest scallion pancake.  This method of thinking, problem solving, tinkering is the basis of all science research and engineering marvels.

Here at Harvard, I saw a great model in the Science and Cooking course, which gave legions of non-science undergraduate students an introduction to the physical sciences every year.  It simultaneously has become such an enjoyable experience the class has all but reached a cult following.  What if we could utilize the fun and delicious aspects of cooking to engage young students in the sciences, and involve them in healthy, nutritious lifestyles?  It all came together when I had a brainstorm session with my friend and co-founder Marina Chen, a fellow cooking extraordinaire and believer in the possibilities of expanding the Science and Cooking concept.

Over the course of a few hours, we had the draft for The Food Lab for Kids made up, and began talking to everyone we could about making this idea a reality.  We were lucky to have such strong support from the very start, from Science and Cooking professor Michael Brenner, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) Director of Education Kathryn Hollar, to Science and Cooking course staff Christina Andujar, Pia Sorenson, and Naveen Sinha.  And with financial support from a SEAS Nectar grant, we took off.  We contacted Area IV Youth Center Director Nicole Rodriguez, who enthusiastically agreed to be our host for our first pilot run of our Science of Pizza curriculum.  Our team of nine Harvard undergraduate students, many who are alumni of the Science and Cooking course, serve as our teachers for weekly hands-on, lab-based classes on that incorporate science concepts and good nutrition habits.  Week by week, we covered everything from the fermentation in pizza dough to the Maillard reaction on caramelized vegetable toppings to thickeners in marinara sauce.  We saw the growth of our ten students, as they grasped onto concepts learned from week to week.  Their center staff and parents were also bowled over by what they saw in terms of kitchen skills obtained, everything from safe knife skills to proper stove work.

The culmination of their program experience was in the research project they conducted in the last weeks.  We saw this as the ultimate test: will the students be sufficiently motivated and empowered to come up with their own research questions and design proper experiments to test their hypotheses?  The answer was an overwhelming yes!  Students formed groups and decided their own research projects.  They ended up exploring how to make fluffier pancakes (the magic is in beating the egg whites!), chewier cookies (with the use of different sugars), and crunchier French fries (by altering the cooking method).  They had the opportunity to present to their peers, at an Area IV youth center hosted science fair, and then again at the SEAS Design Fair.  The students will have another opportunity to showcase their work to the greater Cambridge/Boston community, as well as world class chefs and scientists, at a rescheduled Cambridge Science Festival event at SEAS this coming fall.

After the success of our first pilot run, we are excited to be working on expanding the offerings of The Food Lab for Kids locally and even eventually nationwide.  Our goal is to demonstrate how science curriculum can be effective in through this engaging medium, and lead to positive life skills in health and nutrition as well, and to make this something that can be accessible to all kids.  We had designed the lessons with the goal of utilizing easy to access materials such as basic food ingredients and kitchen equipment, so that even low-resource communities can have access to rigorous, lab-based science curriculum.  We will keep working until we can make that dream a reality.

Back at the Area IV Youth Center, I felt a light tapping on my arm, and saw that it was Dennis.  I couldn’t help but smile at his hands still wet with warm cheese water and a jubilant energy that could barely keep him still.  “Will you food people be back next week?” he asked.  I couldn’t help but smile with him.  “Of course!” I told him, before he bounded out of the room, running and screaming into the corridor “I have string cheese, and it tastes SO much better than that fake stuff you buy!!”.  The Food Lab for Kids is just getting started, I thought to myself.  And a seal of approval from a hard-to-please middle school boy is more than enough encouragement to keep us going.

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Late spring, Harvard Community Garden

strawberry

sageflower

chamomileflowerscloseup

Strawberries, sage flowers, chamomile 

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Tohono O’odham Nation

Rebecca Cohen, ’12, reflects on her first year as a FoodCorps service member on the  Tohono O’odham Nation, the second largest Indian reservation in the country.

A few months after graduating back in May of 2012—and I look back, hardly believing it has been a year since then—I packed up most of my worldly possessions into boxes, shipped them across the country, and left the Northeast to resettle in Tucson, Arizona. My senior spring, I applied for and accepted a position as a FoodCorps service member on the Tohono O’odham Nation, the second-largest Indian reservation in the United States. The reservation straddles the US-Mexico border and is approximately the size of the state of Connecticut, with a saguaro cactus to human ratio of 1:1 (or so the vast expanses of desert make it seem).

I spent my senior year researching and writing an environmental and cultural history of traditional agriculture and foodways on the reservation over the course of the 20th century. I was lucky enough to get a research grant from the Harvard University Native American Program to visit Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a grassroots non-profit committed to creating a healthy, culturally vital and sustainable community on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Luckily, TOCA is a service site for FoodCorps, a new national non-profit that places service members in limited-resource communities to connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. Serving with FoodCorps gave me the chance to take my thesis work a step further and actively become a part of the movement to revitalize traditional foodways in Native communities. Of course, the experience has also been much more than that.

I have learned a lot about myself during my first year of service here. I learned that I do not, in fact, dislike teaching children (which, until I started my service term, I believed to be shamefully true, and which I vehemently hid during my FoodCorps application process). I learned that, as a complete surprise to myself, I quickly came to love my students with an intensity only matched by their unconditional love in return. I learned that I can handle Sonoran Desert 100-plus degree heat into December but become whiny and shivery during Sonoran Desert 5-week, 40 degree winter. I learned that in many ways I had been subtly conditioned over the past four years to believe that an Ivy League education is evidence and endorsement of one’s capabilities. I  began to deconstruct this notion with every passing day, as I witnessed that intelligence, creativity, and potential to change the world had nothing to do with what college you went to—or if you went to college at all.

Every day I learn something new, many of which are only tangentially related to food. But every day serving with TOCA has also strengthened the clarity of my vision of what our food system can and should look like in this country and has given me the chance to see and feel its current inadequacies in ways I did not expect. I have given extra beans to a student who quietly took me aside to tell me that his mom doesn’t have enough money to buy food for them all the time. I have seen the dialysis centers in Sells, the main town on the reservation where TOCA’s office is located,  heard co-workers describe the pain of losing family members to diabetes— and describe the anger that accompanied the even more painful realization that  they didn’t have to go, that their deaths could have been prevented. In many small ways, I have a much deeper and more realistic understanding of the role food plays in people’s lives today on the reservation and off. And I am driven to work harder toward improving our country’s food system because of this.

I highly recommend anyone who is interested in working within the food justice movement to apply to serve with FoodCorps. But I also recommend it to anyone who likes working with children, or is particularly interested in nutrition and health, or just loves to garden. The day-to-day work focuses on FoodCorps’ three pillars: teaching food/nutrition education in the classroom (very broadly speaking, since my co-service member and I have the freedom to develop our own curriculum. We are in the process of finishing up a new year-long K-2 gardening, cooking, and culture curriculum that we spent the year teaching in an after-school program twice a week); maintaining and running programming in school gardens; and working with the school food service provider in the cafeteria to increase the amount of local and high-quality foods served on the menu. No two days of work have been the same, and I would not have it any other way. To clarify, the FoodCorps experience varies widely between different service sites. I am sure what I do here on the reservation is quite different from what the days look like at the service sites in Boston, or in rural Maine, or in Mississippi. If you are serious about applying, definitely check out the list of service sites on the FoodCorps website to see which one you seem drawn to.

I am excited to stay here for a second year of service with TOCA. There are so many projects in the works—garden expansions, compost tea experiments, parent recruitment, pomegranate trees to plant, Food Justice workshops to develop. Coming up next month, I get to participate in the annual bahidaj (saguaro fruit) gathering camp, continuing a tradition that stretches back many, many generations in O’odham families. My co-workers and I will sleep out in the desert for a long weekend, spending the mornings knocking ripe saguaro fruit off the tops of the impossibly tall cacti with dried saguaro ribs and the afternoons cooking them down in enormous pots over fires to produce sitol, saguaro fruit syrup. This is just one example of the incredible things I have been able to participate in during my time here. I look forward to experiencing many more over the next fourteen months.

Read more about the FoodCorps program at https://foodcorps.org/

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