A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Yes, money really DOES grow on trees!"

Did you know that the average-sized deciduous tree can provide fertilizer for your garden worth about $50.00? This article outlines a few ways to utilize this mineral-rich resource, primarily through composting.
Greetings friends, here in our part of the world, we're headed into winter; the Gardens have (mostly) been put to sleep and we have time to reflect on this past season and share with you in a deeper way. Here's a post about  our new "budding" relationship with our local Grade School, and their help in gathering leaves for the Sharing Gardens.
 
Early in autumn, we were approached by the science teacher for 12-13 year-old students at the school that shares our back fence-line - Monroe Grade School. Marie-Louise has a classroom window that looks out on our gardens and had been curious for many years about a way to partner with the Sharing Gardens on a mutually-beneficial project. Her class was doing a unit on "Sustainability" and needed to find a way to perform "community service" (volunteering) that was related to living a sustainable lifestyle.

It's challenging enough to keep a small group of college-age students focused and busy so we needed a project appropriate to a large group of 12-13 year-olds!
We knew, from our experience coordinating "community service" projects with Oregon State University that it can be a challenge to focus the attention of even a small group of college-age students for an extended period of time so we had some concerns about bringing much larger groups of 7th-graders to help us directly in the gardens. After brainstorming for a few minutes, Chris had a great idea when he suggested we coordinate a leaf-raking project in our small town of Monroe, Oregon.
Llyn and Chris presenting info about mulching and compost.
In order to provide a context for the leaf-raking, Chris and I visited Marie-Louise's classroom with some samples of leaves and grass-clippings in various stages of decay to show the students how the leaves turn into soil-fertilizer. We explained that, at the Sharing Gardens, we no longer buy fertilizer from stores but create soil-fertility primarily by feeding the worms and micro-organisms in our soil. (We also use wood-ash from heating our house). The fertile soil then grows the nutrient-packed vegetables that we share in the community with those in need. (If you want to know more about how the Sharing Gardens work, click this LINK.)

We brought compost in various stages of decay...
A week later, the two classes of 16-18 students each, took a short, walking 'field-trip' to the Sharing Gardens. We toured the grounds in two smaller groups so they could continue to make the connection between raking leaves, and growing food, and living more sustainably. We were happy to see some of the young people show a real interest in what we do and how we live. One girl asked, "What's it like to be a vegetarian?". Another asked sincerely, "How do you cook anything without a microwave oven?". One young man found a moth that had landed on a plant and wondered if it would be alright if he picked it up. "Sure," I said, "as long as you're gentle. The insects are our friends in the garden." I watched him gingerly pick up the moth and shepherd it around for the rest of the tour, placing it gently on another plant as he left.
Garden tour: "Wow, compost!"

Garden tour: Everybody loves shelling beans!
We decided to make the leaf-raking itself - truly voluntary - so we wouldn't have a lot of students dragging their feet and resenting being required to do it. We set aside two Saturday mornings (and later picked one) in hopes of having good weather, and to assure that enough leaves would have fallen to make it worth everyone's time. Chris and I rode our bikes around town the afternoon before the Leaf-Raking Day in order to map out the route to rake the most leaves. Marie-Louise had her students make a few posters which they hung on community bulletin-boards so people would know we were coming. We also made fliers to distribute on the day of the raking that explained the project and told people how to donate more leaves, if they were interested.

It's easier to fill bags if you work as a team.
We picked a day after the leaves had really begun to fall in quantity.
We had a beautiful day to do the raking with crisp, sunny weather. We had eight or nine students come help with the raking along with four parents. We raked for about two hours and collected 37 giant bags of leaves. One of the parents had also done some raking with her two children at home and brought another nine bags!


Someone had heard we were coming and piled up all her leaves so all we had to do was bag them.

 
It takes a lot of leaves to mulch our entire garden, the orchards and greenhouses! So far, we've never had too many leaves but this year, we just might get close!
Leaf-raking isn't all work; here's one girl jumping in the raked pile.
Special thanks go to:
First Alternative Food Co-op - $30 gift certificate to buy organic apple juice and popcorn for snacks
Monroe's United Methodist Church (our neighbor) - who provided bathrooms for the rakers to use before and after the project
The parents who chaperoned
The students who helped with the raking and especially to Marie-Louise for reaching out to us and for doing all the extra work of getting permission-slips signed, buying the snacks and all the other steps that made this a successful project. We look forward to continued collaborations in the future!

Here is an article that we wrote about using grass-clippings and leaves as fertilizer.

Feel free to pass this post along to the teachers in your life. Raking leaves can be a fun and meaningful way for students to be of service in your community. We'd be glad to share our experience and provide templates for permission-slips and fliers.

3 comments:

  1. It just so happens that I thank the leaves for dying so beautifully and hope to have a death that graceful, colorful, peaceful....I wish I was still in Monroe to have you rake up my leaves! I have been using the ones from my Dad's yard for my compost. I always thought there would be a wonderful way to get the kids at the school involved with your farm....so happy to hear that it got put together....Love to you both for the holidays and always!!

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  3. Hi Cathy - thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and loving comment on our post. We think of you often as we go about our day, using the furnishings, tools and materials we gleaned from the house you loaned us here in Monroe. We wish you lived closer too so we could all rake leaves together! You remain in our hearts as one of the best examples of generosity we know! Much love, Llyn and Chris

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