As Spring quickly approaches, and the return of the growing season draws near, we wanted to send out an update on our work so far this year, and the fun projects planned for the months ahead.   Within the vibrant Sunnyside community, where there always seems to be so many exciting projects going on simultaneously, our crew has been keeping busy, getting involved in various ways and helping to weave sustainability into the daily thread of the community.  

This year’s restructuring of the Sustainability Coordinator position, which has grown to include our awesome Sustainability Intern, Vinnie, and energetic new Garden Coordinator, Steph, has been a great success!  On the most obvious front, it has meant less waste is going to the landfill from the school and the gardens are getter a greater amount of attention!  On the less visible side, it has also provided for the strengthening of the unique Farm-to-School Partnership between SES and Jean’s Urban Forest Farm, a long-time partner of the school.

In addition to engaging elementary students in weekly hands-on gardening experiences, which is almost enough to fulfill her part-time position on its own, Steph also leads school-wide, Wednesday-morning-late-start work parties, keeps the indoor light tables busy with sprouting seeds for Spring, and tackles dirty jobs like organizing the outdoor garden workshop.  Around the grounds, you may have also noticed Steph’s efforts in building a new raised bed for 4th grade root veggies, as well as coordinating the creation of Sarah’s special garden gathering space out front!

Supporting Steph in these efforts is our new Sustainability Intern, Vinnie. Working with both the elementary and the middle school, Vinnie, and the new internship position, has really boosted the school’s energy and attention to waste reduction and food security issues, as well as their integration into the daily routine of the school. Vinnie heads up the waste reduction efforts in the cafeteria, which includes leading students in the care of the chickens and the school’s latest visitor, Poppy the pig.  Working with the middle school, he leads the ongoing weekly lunch-making for the homeless each Wednesday, while earlier this year he worked with the middle school Hunger & Homelessness cohort, to host this year’s very successful annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet.  All this in addition to helping Steph in the garden!

Meanwhile, as Farm-to-School Coordinator, Michelle (from last year’s Sustainability Team) has been busy creating interdisciplinary curriculum and leading seasonal visits to Jean’s Urban Forest Farm – a living classroom where middle school students not only learn to grow food, but also expand their understanding of health and nutrition as they learn how to cook healthy meals for themselves.  She also organizes the two seasonal celebrations that highlight the food grown both in the school gardens and at the farm.  In June, farm programs will culminate in the fun and exciting “Iron Chef” – SES’ very own local food cooking competition.  While in the fall, curriculum focused on feeding the community at the school’s annual Harvest Faire. This past year, she led students in growing and harvesting potatoes and onions that contributed to the meal, and is already planning for this year’s harvest celebration crops!

As one of only many field study sites middle school students visit, Jean’s Farm is a special little refuge within the city, which students seem to immediately connect to.  It is also unique in its offering of seasonal programming: with each middle school class visiting the farm four times during the year, offering students the opportunity to develop a personal connection to the land and the cycle of the seasons, while being in a relaxed environment in which to build their classroom community.   With their busy school schedule, gardening on campus happens in short spurts, but out at the farm students have the entire day to cycle through the healthy practices of growing, eating, and giving back, while also taking time for a Slow Food lunch.

At the farm this March, we will be taking a multi-sensory look at Seeds, as students move through 3 – 45min rotations. For our Farm rotation, we will be starting seeds in the greenhouse, and learning about different propagation techniques, as well as learning more about our chickens and the role they play in preparing the farm for planting, while also talking about the role wild animals play in seed dispersal in natural settings.  In the Kitchen we will look at, and taste, the benefits of eating sprouted seeds, as we learn to make healthy snacks/appetizers – baking crackers in the cob oven, then spreading them with cheese we’ll make from local goat milk, and then topping them with different sprouted seeds.  For Service we will help maintain the native plant trail through our little forest, (which SES students forged six years ago!) by sheet mulching and laying down wood chips to prevent invasive seeds from sprouting and taking hold as the weather warms up.  We will also discuss the many different ways nature has devised to disperse seeds through the landscape.

As we continue on through the spring we will turn our attention to Roots, making soups, studying soil science and worms in April, and then in May, Stems & Leaves, salad making, and learning about pest management, while also working with a local bee keeper to start some new hives at the farm.  In September we will continue the cycle, looking at Flowers & Fruit, and harvesting and preserving the summer’s abundance, as well as learning to care for some visiting goats.  With the season’s conclusion in October, we’ll focus on Tubers & Modified Stems, creating local Entrees (and our Harvest Faire meal), and the importance of composting and fungi on the farm.

In addition to farm programs, this past fall Michelle also helped take the MS gardens in a new direction, with the creation of square foot garden beds for each student.  Accompanying the planting of these beds, have been in-class lessons on over-wintering and cover crops, as well as the botany around the plant family Alliaciae, which includes the garlic, onions and shallots that you can now see emerging from their plots on the southwest side of the school.

So, we now find ourselves in the midst of the third year, and Sunnyside’s Sustainability Team continues to evolve and find the best way to serve the school community. But, at the same time it remains steady in its aim to help each student develop a personal connection to our incredibly special northwest ecosystem.  This happens both outdoors, as we work to impart a better understanding and appreciation of the beauty and botany of our native and cultivated plants, as well as indoors, as we draw attention to each individual’s part in the cycle of the “stuff” of our everyday lives – food, and “waste,” and service to others and our community. Simply put, the Sustainability program’s goal is to work alongside SES teachers to provide students with hands-on experiences and education that will enable them to become more conscientious and sustainable eaters, consumers, and stewards of our home.