Archive for March, 2009

ggflogoIn an effort to get folks to grow more of their own food, and save some money in the process, Henrico County Extension Office is trying to encourage folks to plant their own gardens in a community plot in Lakeside.

Garden plots start at $5 and up for families in need.

As a Gardens Growing Families gardener, you and your family will attend FREE classes and workshop on: Importance of Fruits and Vegetables in Your Diet; Gardening: From Seed to Harvest; Integrated Pest Management and Pesticide Use; Food Preparation and Family Meals; Freezing and Canning; and Preparing for a Fall Garden.

Click here for a PDF of the Application.
Questions: call the Virginia Cooperative Extension  (804)501-5160 for a more information.

(Please note this is a cross post with the Near West End News.)


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What do the Obamas and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden have in common?

Easy — we are both trying to do the right thing — grow vegetables locally to help our communities lead healthier lives.  And if we can get folks excited about gardening themselves and educate them about how to do it in the process then we’ll be even happier.

Here at Lewis Ginter, we’ve just embarked on a wonderful new project to plant  the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter, to grow local fresh vegetables for the Central Virginia Foodbank. The vegetable garden will cover a fifth of an acre (8,000 SF) with a goal to grow 10,000 lbs of vegetables and fruits for  Richmonders who depend on the Foodbank for food.   Not only is the Central Virginia Foodbank experiencing an unprecedented demand for food in the past year but people are becoming more aware that eating food that is fresh and grown locally is better for the environment (less oil used to truck veggies across the country) and also better for our bodies.   The Community Foundation awarded the Garden a $15,000 grant from the Safety Net Fund to help with the project.

Before photo of the Community Kichen Garden

A before shot of the area that will be turned into the 8,000 SF Community Kitchen Garden

Meanwhile last week, the Obamas broke ground on their own 1,100 SF vegetable garden next  to Malia and Sasha’s swing set on the South Lawn.  Michele Obama stresses that the primary goal of the garden is educating children about  healthful, local fruits and  vegetables, during a time when childhood obesity and diabetes are  so prevalent.    Plus, it sounds like there are other life lessons involved too:  mom  says regardless, the girls will help with the weeding.

The Obamas are definitely trend-setters for America, and they are doing the right thing leading by example by installing both a swing set (for outdoor play and exercise) and a garden  in their first few months in office.   This New York Times article really gives a good picture of how the Obamas are using what they’ve learned to teach the rest of the country.

The question had taken on political and environmental symbolism, with the Obamas lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally, and organically, can lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.

Then, too, promoting healthful eating has become an important part of Mrs. Obama’s own agenda.

The first lady, who said that she had never had a vegetable garden, recalled that the idea for this one came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters, Malia and Sasha, a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner all took their toll in added weight on the girls, whose pediatrician told Mrs. Obama that she needed to be thinking about nutrition.

“He raised a flag for us,” she said, and within months the girls had lost weight.

Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an organic restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., that grows many of its own ingredients, said: “The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s own executive director, puts the Garden’s goals  succinctly: “Our mission is to show how plants are essential to human life. This new garden demonstrates those words in action.”

The Garden’s  next two 25th anniversary symposia also focus on many of the same issues:

No Child Left Inside, Restoring Nature to Early Childhood (April 28-29) will focus on how children today, more than ever, need unstructured outdoor play time and the lack of outdoor playtime is associated with a rise in obesity and diabetes  in our youth. In addition to the full day symposium and a free dinner in the Garden for Teachers, we’ll host a hands on family event called Homespun Family Fun giving parents and children a chance to try out some of our expert’s great suggestions.

Green Tonic: Urban Gardening for Health and Wholeness (August 4-5) will focus on the healing powers of gardens and gardening.  Here’s a short description:

Across the country, neighborhoods, civic associations, community activists and organizers are reclaiming vacant or idle land and transforming these parcels into green oases—gardens that often become a hub of community life, as well as productive, sustainable sources of fresh vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruits, and friendships. Studies of cities that have long supported urban greening initiatives—like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Portland—point to lowered crime and vandalism, higher property values, and increased community pride, in addition to the obvious ecological, health, and wellness benefits.This symposium looks at the best urban greening and community gardening models, the infrastructure and public policies that have helped them succeed, and inspiring examples of neighborhoods becoming whole again through the simple act of gardening.

Which brings us back to the New York Times article:

For urban dwellers who have no backyards, the country’s one million community gardens can also play an important role, Mrs. Obama said.

But the first lady emphasized that she did not want people to feel guilty if they did not have the time for a garden: there are still many changes they can make.

“You can begin in your own cupboard,” she said, “by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”

And,  you might even try the local food bank, where for the first time you’ll be able to pick up your fresh locally grown vegetables.  The Community Kitchen Garden will grow carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, spinach, squash, sweet peppers, zucchini, winter squash, eggplant, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

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Two years ago, I saw that one of my favorite bands, Son Volt, was playing an outdoor concert in Richmond  at — you guessed it — Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I’m embarrassed to say, it was my first experience visiting Lewis Ginter.   But I immediately fell in love with the place.

We arrived at dusk with the kids and a blanket on a perfect cool spring night. I was enchanted by the beauty of The Sunken Garden, the sloped lawn down the the stage and the lake below and the incredibly beautiful flowers all around.  I could tell that this was a special place.  Little did I know how special — and that 2 years later they’d offer me my dream job, and it would become a second home  to me.

A view of the Rose Garden and the Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

A view of the Rose Garden and the Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The beautiful stone structure doubles as a stage for Groovin' in the Garden concerts.

Let me get back to the point.  I’ve been anxiously waiting for the return of this very special music series for almost 2 years now. (Last year it took a hiatus for the construction of the new Rose Garden).   Groovin’ in the Garden is back and better than ever now with the completion of The  Rose Garden  and the stone structure that doubles as a stage. You can be sure I’ll be back again this year to hear as many of these concerts as I can.  And right now,  I’m thinking about how great the Indigo Girls will sound singing from the Garden surrounded by rose bushes.

And what you’ve been waiting for…. here is the line-up:

May 7  Shooter Jennings

May 14  Brandi Carlile

May 21  Old Crow Medicine Show

June 4  Medeski Martin & Wood

June 11  Indigo Girls

Plus more shows will be added,  so check back soon!

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Recently, I’ve been spending alot of time getting the word out about Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s next symposium — No Child Left Inside: Restoring Nature to Early Childhood (April 28-29). This is a topic that is really interesting to me,  and I think it has piqued alot of people’s interest since congress approved the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008,  so that children would have more opportunities to experience nature and the outdoors.

I’m one of those kids that was raised by a nature-lover. Every year my mom would come to my school and take the  kids in my class on a field trip — a walk through the woods directly outside our school.   We’d stop and identify different types of trees, look at the Jack-in-the-pulpits, and just explore.  I’m not sure why our regular teacher didn’t do this or why It wasn’t part of the curriculum, but for my mom, it was the way she gave back to our school, and she loved it.   At home, our house backed up to a huge woods and creek and I spent many of my childhood days exploring there.

And then there are the stories my mom never tired of telling about how when she was gardening I would hide her pruning shears from her as a joke  — when I was 3. Or how when I was a baby it was not uncommon for her to find dirt from her gardening projects  in my diaper because we spent to much time outside in the yard playing in the dirt.

But as a parent myself, feeling comfortable letting my kids explore nature has not come as easily. Our lives  are more scheduled, we live in a more urban environment, and there is always something else competing for the time we spend outdoors in nature.   Add to that my children’s aversion to mosquitoes and poison ivy and my concerns about safety you get what I call the “easy way out” — pretending that making the effort to go outdoors and stay outdoors long enough to explore and really fall in love with it  is just not that important.   But it is. And recently, while researching this symposium, I’ve become convinced that getting my kids outdoors and making time for it is the ONLY hard part.  Once we get out there, everything is easy — because children have a knack for loving nature, If you just give them a chance, their natural curiosity takes over. Their imaginations come alive and they are full of life and questions about what they see in the natural world. My kids can spend countless hours outside creating a habitat for caterpillars or making a fort out of sticks.

Plus, studies show that children who are exposed to nature at a young age have less stress, better concentration, more creativity and higher self esteem — all things you want for you child.  I’ve even heard that exposure to nature connects to children and teenagers being able to delay gratification.  By watching trees grow and flowers bloom, children learn that beautiful things take time and are worth the wait.

The Children & Nature Network and Richard Louv have brought the importance of this issue to attention of many of today’s parents, by pointing out that this cultural shift of kids not playing in nature is here already and its affects can be damaging if we don’t fight to counter-balance with outdoor freeplay and nature time.  While experts are saying that free play in nature can help combat depression, attention deficit disorder and depression in children — I would argue that it can be equally as effective helping adults as well.

I’m very much looking forward to our speaker’s presentations.
Jane Kirkland, author of the award-winning children’s nature series, Take a Walk books , Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative and Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, and Yusuf Burgess, environmental educator, State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation and board member, Children & Nature Network.

The No Child Left Inside movement is taking off across the countryLewis Ginter Botanical Garden is not the only group in Richmond that has realized the impact of this movement. On Tuesday, March 11th, at 7 p.m. the Sierra Club of Richmond will host Bill Portlock, from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to speak on CBF’s No Child Left Inside efforts.

In the end, It didn’t take much to convince me to re-prioritize nature as a priority in my children’s life (and in my own). I’ve known all along it was a good thing, but sometimes it just takes some hard facts and numbers to convince me of what my children have known all along. That nature can be a powerful influence and healing force.

And you can bet that I will be at the hands-on family, Homespun Fun for Families, on Wednesday, April 29th at 5:30 p.m. with my kids to get some more great ideas about how to further incorporate nature into my children’s lives.

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