The Power of Asking

By Mallory Garcia, Albuquerque Public School Wellness Department Service Member

Gardens take so much work. They are incredibly needy in their infancy; procuring soil, seeds, tools, raw materials for raised beds, benches and fences. Some projects can seem too big before they even get started. Even if you have the materials, it takes a lot of manpower to get things going. If this sounds like your situation, don’t dismay. Let one Elementary school show you how this doesn’t have to stop you. Not only did they put together a garden, they created the garden of their dreams.

Lavaland Garden Club has perfected the art of asking. They made a wish list. A really detailed wish list. They didn’t keep it small and basic to be prudent- they asked for what they wanted. These items included: 4 kinds of fruit trees, a butterfly shaped pollinator area, 2 raised beds with soil, benches, signs and various stones to accentuate and create pathways. Guess what…they got it all!

There’s no real secret to asking for help- just give yourself ample time to plan. Talk to your students about what the garden in their heads looks like. What’s growing? Where? Where is your space to enjoy it all? (Pinterest can be an excellent motivator!) Once you’ve created a plan together it’s time to let the community in to help. Who has tools? Who is an undercover gardener? What extra materials are hanging out in hardware stores, nurseries, or even someone’s backyard? Before you know it your plan is a blueprint and you have (hopefully) gotten most of your materials. What comes next? Asking for more help!

Garden Club enlisted the help of classmates, community members, parents and friends to help their dream come to life. They picked a nice Saturday to invite everyone out to be a part of the process. They spoke to local restaurants about  providing food, drinks, and raffle prizes…and they received all of it. People showed up in huge numbers because of the flyers they made. Four hours later Lavaland’s Community Garden Day was a roaring success. People young and old left tired but happy- full of good food and memories.  

Last month Lavaland’s garden was featured in the Albuquerque Journal. To read more about the student’s future plans and ultimate goals, check out the article here:

Mallory Garcia is an Albuquerque native. She took a few years off to join the PeaceCorps in China before returning back to The Land of Enchantment. She hopes to return to her roots and her Grandpa’s favorite past time of gardening and then sitting under the Cottonwoods after a day’s work. You can contact Mallory at

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing & Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing and Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods by Fallon Bader

Wilson Middle school is located in the international district of Albuquerque; a neighborhood with low access and attitudes towards healthy foods. While the neighborhood may lack in fresh, local veggies, Wilson Middle School has taken a different direction. Over the last 5 years a group of ambitious teachers have built a thriving school garden. The garden contains various fruits and vegetables, an edible forest, and even a large pond (with edible plants growing in it!).

One of my tasks as a FoodCorps service member working with Wilson was to integrate more teachers into the school garden. The garden was mainly being used by science classes, but a school garden can serve as a stimulating learning environment for any subject. I was told that the 6th grade language arts teacher was interested in collaborating with me to create some lessons that would combine creative writing and the school garden. I was instantly excited as creative writing was a subject I enjoyed in middle school and it I knew the opportunities were endless.

We first began with using the garden as a space to practice similes and metaphors. After going over the definitions of both, we headed outside to use all 5 senses to inspire ideas for our creative writing. The simple act of the students getting out of the classroom and exploring the beautiful garden created an engaging learning environment.

Rosemary_WordArt_WilsonMS_Blog Fallon_6-2016Another lesson I created was called “Word Art in the Garden”. I had students choose something growing or item they found in the garden (i.e. fence, hole, log). They then had to use their 5 senses to list descriptive words about their chosen object. Then they used these words to create a picture of their item. The students created creative and beautiful artwork that the language arts teacher displayed outside of her classroom.

When you think of middle school poetry combined with nature, what comes to mind? Haikus! Is there a better place to practice writing Haikus than a garden? I had the students circle up outside, read examples of haikus aloud, and then try some vegetables that were growing outside. They had to take notes on what they were trying, and then choose a vegetable to write a haiku about. The students came up with some really creative haikus while trying new foods from the garden at the same time. My personal favorite haiku about edible flowers is pictured below. Even though the student didn’t like what they tried, at least they tried it! Exposure is the first step to getting students to try new foods and creating positive eating behaviors. And sometimes you just have to laugh at what students come up! I most students did like the different vegetables we tried in the garden.

In addition to working with the language arts teacher, I also worked with 6th grade history teacher to create lessons that integrated the school garden as well. This multi-subject collaboration created repeated exposure to healthy foods in an engaging way throughout various subjects. Why is this important? Because most of the students have never tried or aren’t regularly served greens like spinach, arugula, chard, or kale at home. So when they show up in their school lunches, even something as simple as a spinach salad, where does most of that food go? The garbage. But, if we expose the students to these foods in a positive and engaging way, they will be more apt to try and consume them. We need a to create a culture shift where people want to consume healthier foods, and school gardens are an effective tool to do this.


Notes From the Field: Lew Wallace Tasting Event

By Fallon Bader, FoodCorps Service Member with APS Growing Gardens Team

In honor of National Farm to School month, I want to highlight an event that shows just how effective and fun a school wide health event can be.

With the help of parents, teachers, community organizations, and farmers, Lew Wallace Elementary School hosted a successful “Healthy Food Tasting Event”. I was invited to help plan and organize this awesome event. The event had several booths where students and families could go around exploring their senses and learning something new.

Red Tractor Farms hosted a tomato tasting booth. They brought several varieties of beautiful, farm-fresh tomatoes.

FoodCorps (that’s me!) hosted a “Massaged Kale Recipe” table. This involved getting gloves on, tearing up kale, and then massaging it with a delicious dressing in a Ziploc bag. Then of course, a taste test and “I Tried It” stickers to follow. There even was a young student who loved kale so much she wanted to eat it plain. I think this is proof that this farm-to-table stuff is working, huh?!

Albuquerque Public School’s Wellness Coordinator, Cynthia Grajeda, staffed the always-a-kid-favorite smoothie bike. One of our students was at first hesitant to try the green concoction, but once he tried it, he slammed down the cup and said “fill her up”!

Sol Harvest and La Cosecha farms brought tons of produce that was given out to families! This gave students and families a chance to meet the farmer who actually produced their food. Families could also practice some of the skills and education they had learned at the event at home.

There were also booths on WIC, the ICAN cooking program, and DoubleUpBucks SNAP benefits. The event provided a variety of hands-on and fun educational opportunities.

We were able to reach both students and families at the same time, which creates a better chance of a long-term positive impact. The event also stirred up conversations about how to keep this healthy momentum going at Lew Wallace. Overall, this event was a great success and big step for building community wide health.

Farm to School: Keeping It Local Family Nights

By Natalie Donnelly, FoodCorps Service Member serving with the Growing Gardens Team

“Purple cauliflower taste test anyone?” I asked as I looked at the wide-eyed 3rd grade students at East San Jose Elementary School, where I teach the majority of my nutrition and gardening classes. Having never laid eyes on one of these bulbous vegetables, most kids thought it was dyed to conceal the real color. Though my ultimate goal is not to get my students to love purple cauliflower, I do aim to instill curiosity in the kiddos. A curiosity to try new things, explore the natural world and be excited to learn.

This is my own interpretation of the FoodCorps mission, which was revamped this past year. We now include “with communities” to the original, “connecting to kid to real food that helps them grow up healthy”. In my opinion, the addition of “communities” to FoodCorps’ mission is vital. Generally speaking, farm to table initiatives are most successful with community participation, and communities are not solely make up of kids, they are made up of families.

Direct teaching is probably my favorite part of my service; so I ask myself: “how much impact am I really making if I focus my time on teaching elementary schoolers?”. Yes, I can encourage kids to nurture their curiosity and excitement to learn all I want (yesterday, a 1st grader came to me with a limp critter in hand: “So, this worm, the soil is its home? It eats and poops there?”), but it’s the community comprised of school staff and administration, family members, even the man selling sweets on the corner after class that also needs to be included for this work to be reinforced and truly effective. Specifically, I’m talking about the parents and caregivers out there: the decision makers whose palates and pocketbooks chiefly control what kids eat when not in school.

In order for wider impact and reaching more of my community, I tweaked my service this year to include Farm to School: Keeping it Local family nights. With support from New Mexico Farm to Table and the Farm to School Education program, East San Jose Elementary School (ESJ) has been able to create a collaborative effort with the University of New Mexico School-based Clinic at ESJ, the Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESSOS) and Roadrunner Food Bank. During these events, we host cooking demonstrations featuring food recently distributed by the local food bank and highlighted in the statewide Harvest of the Month program sponsored by Farm to Table. We also provide garden/nutrition book and gift certificate giveaways, homework help and an activity corner for students. These nights are not only an opportunity for my students who see my hairnet to question whether I’m actually a “lunch lady”, but more importantly, an opportunity for families to gain healthy cooking skills and nutrition information and fill their bellies together.

These family nights are similar to my elementary school classes as they embody a sense of adventure in trying new things, rely on building relationships, and invite the crinkled noses and looks of delight when we try new foods together, whether it be that mysterious purple cauliflower in the classroom, green smoothie as part of a school wide taste test or zucchini pizzas at the Farm to School: Keeping it Local family nights.