Grow Your Own Sweet Potatoes

May 14th, 2014

By Deanna Lutz, Director of Operations

Potted Plant with Sweet PotatoAbout this time last year, I wrote about how easy it was to grow potatoes in pots, but did you realize that the vigorous sweet potato vine that is commonly found in containers can actually be sprouted from sweet potatoes and that you can even harvest a crop of potatoes at the end of the summer?

swpotatoesSweet potatoes are easy to grow and the vibrant chartreuse foliage of the vine can’t be beat! They will quickly form roots when sprouted in water but did I tell you that sweet potatoes are super easy to grow? You can root them first or simply cut off the end of a sweet potato or two, or depending on how many containers you have and plant in your pot. Potatoes from most supermarkets are treated to inhibit the eyes from growing so try to use organic potatoes.Be sure to select a pot at least 12-15 inches deep and fairly wide to give the potatoes lots of room to grow.

harvestSweet Potato Vine will grow best during the warm days of summer, thriving in sun or shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. You may begin to enjoy your home-grown sweet potatoes in late summer but it is better to leave them until the leaves begin to yellow and die back. In fact, leave them in the pot for as long as you can as an early frost will not damage them. Once harvested, allow them to mature for a week or so in the warmest area of your house with good circulation to allow the skins to ripen and the flavor of the potato to sweeten. Once mature, your potatoes are ready for use in cooking and will store quite happily in a cool dry place for a month or so. There’s nothing like the unforgettable flavor of a sweet potato that you grew yourself!

Potomac River Watershed Cleanup: Saturday April 5th Family Fun

March 25th, 2014

Guest post by Jessica McFadden, Blogger

Your family can get a jump on environmental activism (and fun!) before Earth Day by participating Saturday April 5th in the largest effort to clean both the Anacostia and Potomac watersheds, the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup

This area-wide Cleanup offers many local sites where families can help clean litter from along streams and river banks. From Sligo Creek to Rock Creek Park to Northwest Branch, you can find a local clean-up site that is close to your home and close to your heart. Check out the map for locations throughout the DC Metro area in DC, Maryland and Virginia where you and your kids can serve and learn.

Cleanup in VALocal cleanup events mobilize volunteers young and old to pick up the trash littering our watersheds, and litter removal has a huge impact on animals in multiple ecosystems. Additionally, the Alice Ferguson foundation website states, “The Cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages citizens and community leaders and generates momentum for change.”

My favorite local environmental educator and activist, Jennifer Chambers of Hiking Along, says, “Kids like to feel impassioned that they are making a difference, and removing litter is an easy and productive way to feel positive about doing that.”

Jennifer Chambers is also the author of the great book for kids which bring environmentalism to their level, Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle. It is the story of a water bottle’s journey in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Atlantic Ocean. Upon reaching a storm drain, the personified water bottle travels the streams and rivers of Washington, D.C., meeting animals along its ride. Each animal—from the water strider to the loggerhead turtle—teaches the water bottle about itself, its origins, its journey, and those of other pollutants in the watershed. Alima is the five-year old water bottle’s heroine; making us all believe we can be one too. 100% of the profit from the sale of the book is being equally divided between the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics program.

This book is a great read to share with your kids before or after participating in the April 5th clean up closest to your home! I will be reading with Charlie, Eve and Alice before we head to one of the 12 Silver Spring clean up locations we have to choose from. Please join us.

See original post here.

It’s All Fun and Games and Learning

February 25th, 2014

By: Emily Drobenak, Schoolyards as Classrooms Project partner teacher at Accokeek Academy

In early February each year, there is a convergence of minds in Ocean City, MD from an endless arena of education outlets. This was the second year in which I had the good fortune to attend the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education conference through my school’s partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Schoolyards as Classrooms Project. Last year, I gained invaluable information from a number of mini-sessions from waste reduction to excellence in STEM teaching. This year, I was able to dive deeper with a half-day workshop titled “Learn to Play, Play to Learn.” This session addressed environmental education practically and socially. Our energetic and enthusiastic instructors put us right into the games to experience the learning activities hands on.

Teacher's InstituteI was surprised but delighted when so many of the initial activities turned out to be teambuilding exercises. We gained a level of comfort and were able to get the most out of our workshop once a comfortable classroom environment was established. Meanwhile, we were also subtly, but purposefully learning and talking about our natural environment. These activities were fun, felt like games, AND had the underlying purpose of teaching. One such game was called Bats and Moths. The class forms a cave by grasping hands while a student is blindfolded in the center as the bat. In a fantastically scientific rendition of a game similar to “Marco Polo” or “Sharks and Minnows,” the bat must call out to the moth, another student, who must echo the calls. A group of adults, who may have long forgotten the joys of playing, had a blast playing, and so would students. Meanwhile, they are experiencing an animal adaptation that will open the doors for further discussion and inquiry.

The session really brought to life for me how important playing can be when integrated with learning. The activities will get kids excited about their natural environment. If they enjoy learning about the world around them, they will want to protect it and secure it for the future. While it is already well past halfway through the year, I plan to incorporate these activities into my classroom and schoolyard activities. My students will soon be learning specifically about animal adaptations and “Bats and Moths” would be a great exploration of that. However, we will also be able to use the game Owls and Crows to explore other content areas while keeping our local environment in the forefront.

Our instructors referenced a book from the seventies, “New Games,” and nature educator Joseph Cornell as great resources to use playing to learn in environmental education. I encourage you to look into the resources for yourself and help your students learn to play and play to learn!

Three Days and Two Nights at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center

January 28th, 2014

By Brenda Wright, Hard Bargain Farm Education Center Coordinator

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf

 

My name is Brenda Wright and I have been a naturalist for the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center for the past 20 years. It is difficult for me to imagine that the kids I worked with back in 1994 are now adults with possibly their own children. I hope, if I had any impact on them at all, that they are sharing the world around them with the children who may be a part of their lives.

In these 20 years of teaching (and still ongoing) it never ceases to amaze me that there are 10-year old kids who, for whatever reason, have never had the opportunity to play in the woods. As a child I spent so much time in the woods exploring the natural world. My friends and I would spend whole days balancing on logs crossing the swamps and small creeks, looking at wild flowers and collecting as many different types of beautiful colored leaves as we could in the fall. Leaf rubbings were a favorite of mine.

I work with all ages of kids, but the 10-year olds generally spend the night, and for some this is not only the first time they will be walking through the woods but the first time they have spent a night away from home. During their stay at Hard Bargain Farm, many milestones are reached. Feeling the independence of being “on their own”, really getting to know their classmates and actually having the time to bond with other classmates that they may never have even taken the time to get to know before. It is an experience and transformation for many kids that will last a lifetime.

Last summer, the Alice Ferguson Foundation was fortunate to receive a grant from DDOE (DC Department of Environment). This organization has awarded many grants to the Foundation that made it possible for students in Washington, DC to visit the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. The latest grant differs in that they are funding the program for three days and two nights; this has been an amazing opportunity for the staff, students, and teachers. Having the extra day and evening with these students has been so rewarding. It gives us more time to help the kids to feel comfortable in the out of doors, being away from home, and bonding with their classmates. I hope it is a trend that will continue. These students have their campfire on the second night and during that time we ask them to reflect on their visit, and some of what they said was very touching and rewarding. Here are a few of the quotes: “I got to do things I never would have done”; “being in such a beautiful place”; “learn about birds, I did not know how amazing they were”; “I never thought I would stand next to a real goat”–and it goes on and on. I would like to end with a video of a teacher who was present on one of these trips.

And the Winner Is… Walker Mill Middle School

December 13th, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liaison

Walker Mill Middle School officially adopted the Trash Free Schools project in the fall of the 2012-2013 school year, which gave momentum for the school to create a green team to tackle various environmental issues around the school including recycling and reducing waste.  Sidney Bailey, the founder of Walker Mill’s Green Team and claims that it was the motivation of the students and their will to recycle more that led him to join the Trash Free Schools project and create the green team.  Since its inception, the Green Team has been a rapidly growing entity at Walker Mill, where the students and teachers drive environmental stewardship and education through the hallways of the school.

Even though Mr. Bailey is no longer at Walker Mill Middle School, the project by no means is suffering. This year’s Green Team Leader, Mrs. Keisha Bennaugh is heading up the project and taking it in the right direction. The Green Team has doubled in size this past year and now has more than 100 students and multiple teachers. The students will continue recruit new members and teachers until they reach the goal of having school-wide participation in their efforts.

To help with their recruitment efforts, Mrs. Bennaugh brings her eclectic and artsy vibe to enhance the “green-movement” at the school. Students on the Green Team have worked with Mrs. Bennaugh to put fashionable flair on their Green Team attire,  which they are allowed to wear outside on their uniforms on Fridays. She also worked with the students to  create a large “green” mural in the schools media center. Along with encouraging creativity, the Green Team faculty also  challenge the students to take responsibility and work on professionalism and hospitality skills as they work to haul the schools recyclables from the school’s classrooms and offices.

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The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Executive Director, Lori Arguelles, addresses the Green Team during the ceremony.

In addition to the great work that is taking place in the school, on November 15, 2013, the Green Team was awarded with their $1000 Grand Prize for winning the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Litter Prevention Video Contest. The school hosted a small ceremony in the media center that included guest speaker such as;Lori Arguelles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation; Mayor Kito James, Town of Capitol Heights; Sidney Bailey, former Green Team Leader and Vice Principal at Center City PCS; and Angela Angle, Policy Aide, Office of Prince Georges County Council Member Derrick L. Davis. Walker Mill Middle School was also presented with Certificates of Appreciation from the Town of Capitol Heights and County Council Member Derrick L. Davis.

The Green Team will utilize their prize money to research and retrofit the school with plants that will improve the indoor air quality. The students also have a desire to procure more recycling bins for classrooms and the hallways and begin greening and planting exercises on the schools exterior. Other future projects for the Green Team include creating a central meeting location for the Green Team, joining in on the Anacostia River Restoration Project efforts, and looking to host a trash free carnival. In the meantime, the Green Team will begin planning activities for the annual Potomac River Watershed School-Yard Cleanup and continually seek more funding sources to complete their projects.