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Sep 14, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Movements Are Funny Things

What exactly makes something a movement? In my first few months as the Program Coordinator for Farm to Desk DC, it is a question that I’ve returned to frequently. Theoretically, I am now both a member of the food movement, and someone tasked with helping to build the edible schoolyard movement here in DC. So, seems like I better get it figured out quick.

Here in this federal town, August is a time for getting prepared. After all the debt-ceiling shenanigans, Congress finally took its recess, giving the city a chance to breathe. And as parents went shopping for backpacks and middle school students raced to finish long-neglected summer reading lists, teachers laid plans for the coming school year. Right before students come pouring through those doors, everything seems possible, both good and bad. In my experience, you’ll find that teachers are a peculiar combination of creatively ambitious and terrified this time of year. They can’t stop thinking about all the engaging lessons and inspiring units they’ll provide for their classroom. And yet, they also can’t stop imagining all that will go wrong, all the stress and long hours that will eat away at whatever summer-vacation-energy-surplus they were able to acquire.

At least, that is how I always felt.

So far at EW Stokes Public Charter School – Farm to Desk’s Pilot School – I’ve found dedicated and passionate teachers fighting the same fights that teachers fight everywhere: staff turnover, programmatic change, test score anxiety, and too much to do with too little time. And yet, despite all that, the teachers and administrators are committed to an innovative and powerful wellness program that includes: lots of physical activity; a from-scratch kitchen producing healthy, delicious meals; environmental education; and a school garden.

What a privilege to be working with such a forward-thinking school. In the next week, I will start teaching a Food & Ecology class to the Third and Sixth Grade classes, and soon after that, I will lead student activities in the garden and new outdoor classroom with Jonna McKone, our Garden Manager. The Sixth Graders will learn about the history, legend, science, and math of apples, all in preparation for selling school-made apple products at a trend-setting city festival that reached out to usbecause they thought what we were doing was cool.

At the same time, I have been receiving inquiries from teachers and administrators all across the city, asking how they can incorporate food literacy into their academic programs. Last week, I had the first meeting of many with teachers who are particularly dedicated to bringing healthy food and habits to their students. We dined potluck-style and shared frustrations, strategies, and dreams for changing the way food and nutrition is taught in our school system. In this age of high-stakes testing, such conversations help me believe that schools can be about more than just Math and English proficiency; that they can be about creating healthy, creative, engaged citizens. In these moments, I think, now this is a movement.

Some days, the possibilities really do seem endless.

Sep 09, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Summer Happenings In A DC School Garden

A summer vegetable garden is incredibly quiet compared the usual bustle of the school year. The quest for carrots large and small; kids searching for bright red amaranth, and the excitement of watching pill bugs make their way through the dirt dies down once summer break starts. However, this summer E.W. Stokes Vegetable garden had a fair amount of activity thanks, in part, to the involvement of the school’s lead chef and cooking staff, the expansion of 13 raised beds to include a large, a traditional (in-ground) bed and the involvement of summer classes. For Seedling Projects’ program, Farm To Desk D.C., garden manager Jonna McKone spent the summer growing heirloom varieties of vegetables, establishing sustainable garden systems like composting, teaching classes with the school’s summer enrichment program and filling the beds with kid-friendly information.

During the summer Stokes grew: strawberries, onions, mustard greens, all sorts of cherry tomatoes including Sun Sugar and Black Zebra, Bianca Rosa eggplant, sweet peppers, potatoes (which did not do well – we are still trying to figure out why), endless varieties of mint, Genovese and Thai basil, string beans, flowers, radishes, turnips, lavender and rosemary. The school’s chef and cook staff used a number of the items throughout the summer to stock the salad bar and make lunches for the summer program.

In July, the garden had the pleasure of a group of regular visitors: a 2nd grade French class and a French class of pre-Kindergarden and Kindergarten students. For five weeks, each class would visit the garden at least twice a week to learn about the 6 parts of a plant – what we eat, how roots work, why leaves are shaped in different ways and how to identify what’s growing in the garden. We also started our seeds, weeded, dug up new beds, harvested and made pesto, tea and a basil salad with the school’s chef, Lisa Dobbs.

Once August started, the focus was on our fall seedlings and planning. We got some major projects out of the way like building a shed, starting a better compost system and creating an outdoor classroom of colorful tree stumps and tables. We got really lucky – a neighbor cut down a massive tree and donated their stumps to us. We also worked with a local non-profit Casey Trees that lent their tree moving expertise. Casey Trees managed the process of hauling the massive stumps with a forklift and donated the use of their dollys. We know have benches, tables and a sitting area for teachers to utilize. We hope the outdoor classroom gets a lot of use, both for garden-based classes and for general play and learning time. In addition, we developed a series of raised bed concepts for the garden as well as a brand new, in-ground bed! Right now there’s a perennial herb garden bed, a bed of fruits and coming soon: a bed of companion plants, native species and a “pizza topping bed.” Up next we will be building a sign and community board so parents, students and neighborhoods can volunteer more readily at the garden.

Now that school is underway and we are excited to get the kids back in the garden to learn and harvest!

Aug 18, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Current Project: Good Food Awards 2012

We are working tirelessly on securing as many entrants for the second year of the Good Food Awards ( The entry deadline is September 1st and we are hoping to surpass the 780 entries from our first year. The more states represented, the better! This year we have expanded to eight categories: cheese, beer, coffee, charcuterie, chocolate, spirits, pickles, and preserves. Stay tuned for more updates once the entries are finalized.

May 20, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Lunch for Today, Food for the Future

Hand-decorated bay leaves, a wheat berry salad with arugula and apples, local fresh flowers, family style serving platters, and farmer-hosts at each table –together these created the “Lunch on the Quad”, which brought to life the working solutions to our food system in Washington D.C.

The Future of Food conference, put on by the Washington Post Live, brought together a diverse group of stakeholders in the food movement, including CEOs, activists, policymakers, students and organization leaders, to talk about the solutions needed to fix our current food system. The Future of Food was a day-long conference with four panel discussions, speeches by industry leaders Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Patrick Holden (Sustainable Food Trust), and a rousing keynote by His Royal Highness Prince Charles. Seedling Projects collaborated with Bon Appetit Management Company and D.C. non-profits, with the generous support of Kaiser Permanente, to produce a lunch that continued the conversations sparked by the panelists and speakers over a family-style meal.

So, it’s just lunch right? At some level, lunch is always a meal falling approximately in the middle of the day. But each element of the “Lunch on the Quad”, which occurred inside two of Georgetown’s most beautiful rooms, the Copley Lounge and Riggs Library, carried meaning and intention. The intention to show how to eat a delicious meal that directly supports local farmers and is healthful and affordable (~ $10 person for a four-course meal). This intention combined with the lunch keynote by White House Chef Sam Kass and Blue Hill at Stone Barns Chef Dan Barber created lunch more powerful than just your everyday PB&Js.

Hand-decorated bay leaves. The children from E.W. Stokes public charter school and Martha’s Table donated their youthful artistic talents to decorate 350 bay leaves that sprang to life at each place setting. The leaf decoration, coordinated by Farm to Desk D.C. coordinator Peter Nalli, was integrated into a lesson on herbs. Our first group of artists hails from the E.W. Stokes public charter school, the pilot school of the Farm to Desk program which integrates food and ecology into lessons on math and english. The Farm to Desk program teaches healthy eating habits through an integrated food curriculum, a dining hall serving from-scratch food, and a thriving organic garden at the school, in addition to a growing online wiki of lesson content that aligns food curriculum with core learning standards. Our second group of artists came from Martha’s Table, a shelter in D.C. that recently replaced much of its canned food with freshly-cooked meals, adding emphasis to healthy food in their programs. Both organizations are pioneering the integration of fresh food and education into these children’s lifestyles.

A wheat berry salad with arugula and apples. Prepared and served by Bon Appetit Management Company, this meal showcased the best local farms and food producers, all within 150 miles of Washington D.C. Sourced through FRESHFARM Markets, which organizes eleven farmers’ markets in the D.C. area, these family farmers provided all the ingredients for the lunch, including spring flower honey from Bon Appetit’s own Jay Keller and watermelon puree from young Allesandra Bergmark of Even’ Star Organic Farm in Maryland. From these local ingredients, Bon Appetit Management Company cooked a meal centered around healthful whole grains and vegetables. Bon Appetit, leaders in sustainable food service with over 400 university, museum and corporate cafes, championed the meal with careful preparation, creative recipes and graceful service. The result was a delicious reflection of the D.C. region.

Family-style serving platters. In an experience concepted and designed by the architects and graphic designers at BCV Architects and Amy Barboro Design, we served each dish family style. This communal dining experience sat renowned activists and policymakers among students and farmers, passing platters of spring asparagus and mesclun greens as the conversation and ideas flowed naturally from the morning to afternoon conference sessions. Students in D.C. Central Kitchen’s “Fresh Start” program, a job training program for those overcoming addiction, incarceration and homelessness, served the platters and added additional local flair to the organizations involved.

Local fresh flowers. Local florist Sidra Flowers arranged each of the centerpiece bouquets. Sidra sources from local organic gardens, whether the backyard or farm. The fresh flowers in each bouquet bloomed life into each room.

Farmer-hosts at each table. Local farmers hosted each of the tables, travelling sometime two hours that morning to proudly represent their growing region. Interspersed amongst the other conference attendees, these farmers supplied not only the rhubarb and kale, but also a valuable farmer’s perspective to each table. The farms represented included Big City Farms in Baltimore, MD, Gun Powder Bison Ranch in Monktown, MD, and Wade’s Mill in Raphine, VA, among others.

In a special moment immediately preceding the lunch, Prince Charles met with one member from each organization and company collaborating on the lunch. These lucky champions of the sustainable food movement included Sarah Weiner (Seedling Projects), Hans Baldauf (BCV Architects), Jay Keller (Bon Appetit Management Company), Gwen Perkins (DC Central Kitchen), Jim Crawford (Tuscarona Growers Cooperative), Sam Kass (White House Chef) and Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns). The special recognition for those producing lunch highlighted our renewed commitment to creating a food system that values the people working on the ground every day, from farmers to chefs, to community nonprofits.

- Gavin Crynes

Photos by Nikki Kahn and Tracy Woodward of the Washington Post

Apr 04, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Farm to Desk: volunteers move soil, plant new salad garden

With a lot of linseed oil, a little lifting, and a great team of almost 30 volunteers, the new salad garden next to the kitchen at E.W. Stokes took shape on Sunday!

After several days of chilly rain, Sunday was a sunny day perfect for community gardening. Four of the raised beds from the old, bulldozed garden were relocated, renovated, and painted to extend their life for a few more delicious growing seasons. Volunteers also moved countless wheelbarrows of soil and compost as they amended the soil and changed the configuration of the remodeled garden. To refuel: homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and dried fruit and seed trail mix, with some cool, cucumber-infused water to wash it down. A special thanks to Amy Bartscherer, our fabulous coordinator, the JCC’s Behrend Builders, and the parent and student volunteers from Sidwell Friends School.

Mar 31, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Up this weekend: Farm to Desk at E.W. Stokes

Farm to Desk digs into spring this weekend at E.W. Stokes! With the help of the Jewish Community Center’s Behrend Builders, we’re reconstructing the raised beds on campus, as well as amending the soil to give our seeds the maximum amount of love. We couldn’t do it without Amy, our garden manager, the fabulous parents at Stokes, and the JCC’s enthusiastic support of labor on their Spring into Action Day. Check out the JCC’s other great projects here.