The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Training educators to think greener

 By DIANE LEWIS
DIANE LEWIS PHOTO

Professional development educator Liz Falk speaks with local educators at the John Jay Homestead.

 

On Friday, July 6, garden educators from Westchester County and southern Connecticut gathered in the barn at John Jay Homestead for a training program taught by Liz Falk from Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ithaca. The two-day program was geared to help educators engage youths in gardening projects and foster community partnerships and coalitions to support gardening, mentoring and sustainability in the Westchester community. The second day of classes was held Saturday at the Mount Kisco Child Care Center.

Assisting Ms. Falk was Nancy Caswell, head of education for the 4-H programs in Westchester County. Ms. Caswell said that 4-H is the youth arm of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Westchester and gives children the ability to learn about and handle livestock despite the area’s close proximity to New York City. It also gives them a community of peers who share an interest unusual in this area.

Cornell University is a land grant institution. Abraham Lincoln established land grant institutions to serve as a national network of outreach in 1863. Ms. Falk said that as of last year, 200 teachers nationwide had enrolled in the garden education training programs. Although she is based at the Cornell campus in Ithaca, Ms. Falk said it is important for her to connect with local educators for a more individualized approach.

The Friday program focused on permaculture, edible forest gardening, capacity building and soil culture. Permaculture is an approach to designing communities modeled on the relationships in the natural world.

Ms. Falk polled the students, who were mostly secondary school teachers, and asked what they liked most and thought was most important about teaching youth about gardens and gardening. Many of the teachers said that they thought it was important for students to understand where their food comes from. Others said that if children were given the chance to fall in love with gardening now they would carry that love without them through their lives. The benefits of increasing environmental awareness, improving nutrition and reducing stress were also mentioned.

Ms. Falk said additional benefits that might not necessarily be expected are that student test scores increase, and students’ abilities to focus and problem solve could improve. She said this is thought to be the result of the combination of physical activity, stress reduction, time spent outdoors, nutritional improvement and independent decision-making that children experience when they are gardening.

Ms. Falk said that many children, particularly those who live in cities, think of gardens as museums because they don’t have gardens in their yards. One of her goals is to take gardens into the real world so that all children think it is natural to participate in gardening. Local gardening and farming can also help diminish climate change because Americans’ food currently travels an average distance of 1,500 to 2,000 miles from farm to table, she said.

While there are challenges and opportunities in all neighborhoods, Ms. Falk said this is particularly true of urban environments, where 80 percent to 100 percent of water runs off non-permeable surfaces such as streets and roads. The drained stormwater combines with sewage pipes so that when there are heavy rains, urban sewage treatment facilities are often overwhelmed and discharge untreated waste into nearby waters.

This is true in New York’s Hudson River and Washington, D.C.’s, Potomac River, both of which see markedly diminished water quality following storms. But there are methods that can be used to absorb this rainwater and discharge it more slowly after a storm. Rain barrels can collect water before it becomes runoff, and installing permeable rather than impermeable surfaces is another method to help eliminate needless runoff. In addition, planting trees on both sides of the road is an excellent way to mitigate this problem, with the additional benefit that neighborhoods are enhanced with greenery and shade.

Ms. Falk emphasized the importance of teaching about composting. About 70 percent of the average American’s kitchen and yard waste can be composted, she said, with less than 2 percent being composted at the present time. Teachers at the John Jay Homestead workshop said they taught their students to compost waste that was abundant in their communities such as coffee grounds, food and leaves. Many of the teachers were enthusiastic about rooftop gardening but said they did not have an appropriate infrastructure to pursue it.

Ms. Falk suggested that teachers develop garden projects that “tell a story.” She also suggested that schools that teach about gardening should host community celebrations highlighting healthy food choices, and additionally suggested that educators consider community fruit tree programs. Towns hire people who need the work to harvest the food and then send it to a food bank, according to Ms. Falk.



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Bedford Hills

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Katonah

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Mount Kisco

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Cross River

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