Summer is a time of bounty in the garden. Tomatoes are ripening, eggplants are in bloom, and you can count yourself lucky if you’ve managed to keep your lettuce and arugula from bolting. School gardens often let plants flower and then go to seed during the summer, which results in a burst of summer forage for bees and other pollinators.

Summer is also when the American Horticultural society gathers to celebrate educational gardens and the people who make them possible. This celebration (also known as a conference) is titled the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium and gathers classroom teachers, school garden support organizations, volunteers, professors and school garden coordinators from around the country. For one week these awe-inspiring individuals work to collaboratively address common challenges (such as summer garden maintenance) by sharing their own stories of difficulty, success and growth.

The resources that come out of this meeting are astounding and worth exploring regardless of whether or not your school or education site is currently home to a garden. Here are a few of the highlights!

Soul Fire Farm kicked the week off by facilitating a discussion on race and (in)justice in the food system. Participants were encouraged to examine how these elements may show up in garden education. Local to Oregon we have a fabulous organization called Mudbone Grown that is working to combat similar issues in the Portland Metro area. If you ever have the chance to participate in one of their food justice workshops, they come highly recommended! Teaching Tolerance was identified as a fabulous resource for considering how to best implement anti-racism in teaching practices.

The Keynote speaker was Pashon Murray, a Detroit woman dedicated to not only reducing food waste but to repurposing it through compost. In addition to being a talented entrepreneur (she founded Detroit Dirt!), she is committed to helping educators teach students about sustainability in the food system. Not only has she been known to skype with classrooms, but she also partnered with the venerable Life Lab to create a middle school science curriculum called The Soil Story.  What a great way to connect science, social change, and entrepreneurial innovation! On a more local note, did you know that the Oregon Zoo has been known to offer its manure for free as a soil amendment? They call it Zoo Doo!

Community Groundworks, a Wisconsin based garden education organization, also provided excellent curricular materials. Check our library to borrow their guide to school gardens—available in English and Spanish. Also available for download in English and Spanish.

Next year’s conference is slated to take place in Santa Cruz, California, home to Life Lab, authors of The Growing Classroom and Sowing the Seeds of Wonder—both books available through our Free Loan Library. This is sure to be an event worth attending! Interested in this kind of event, but hoping to participate at the local level? Consider attending the next Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Summit, scheduled to happen early 2020. Thanks to Rick Sherman, Oregon’s Farm to School/School Garden Coordinator, we also have school garden hubs popping up all over the state. To find one near you and reserve your spot for the next meeting, just check the Oregon Department of Education Regional Hub website. Let’s get gardening!

By Kassia Rudd
Washington County Programs Coordinator