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Early snowfall doesn't stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

Changing Habits – Farm to School Month

Early snowfall doesn't stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

Early snowfall doesn’t stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

What do kids know about food? A lot more, these days, thanks to Farm to School Programs. Educators nationwide are helping young people to break free of the kids’ menu mentality. No more chicken fingers, fries and fish sticks – we’re talking real, garden-fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, farm to table style. It’s National Farm to School Month, everybody!

Changing Habits

Americans love to eat! It’s undeniable. Just stroll through the aisles of any grocery store and take in the view. The myriad of options is telling of our food obsession. Unfortunately, many of the items also reveal a simultaneous misunderstanding of what real food actually is. Here’s a definition, courtesy of Dictionary.com, to get us started:

food [noun]: any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.

Simple, right? Maybe not. Because many of the choices Americans make fulfill none of these basic criteria. We’re not naming names, but here’s a hint: If it’s neon orange and leaves a sticky film on your fingers of the same color, it does the opposite of create energy – it zaps it. Which can eventually contribute to this staggering statistic:

More than one-third of adults in the USA are obese.

That’s no joke. So, where does the disconnect begin? And why are so many families dealing with obesity in both children and parents?…

It’s all about habits.

Consider these lines from MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

“For many people, changing eating habits is very hard…You may have had certain eating habits for so long that you do not realize they are unhealthy. Or, your habits have become part of your daily life, so you don’t think much about them.”

This is where Farm to School Programs come in. Getting American kids on the right nutrition track early in life means less bad habits to bust later on.

This little gardening tyke is well on her way to a healthy understanding of where food comes from.

You can start big or small – try seed and herb growing kits for an easy start!

A Healthier Next Generation

Remember that overwhelming grocery store aisle we were talking about earlier? The idea is to give kids the tools necessary to make smart, nutritious meal decisions while bypassing the neon orange stuff. Education and community outreach is the essence of Farm to School Month and the movement overall.

Each region is different, and both public and private schools are encouraged to build out initiatives that make sense for their students, teachers, districts and communities as whole. This can include everything from student-tended gardens and visits from local growers, to fieldtrips to the farmer’s market and crafting school lunches around seasonal ingredients. This allows children to create an up-close-and-personal relationship with the food they eat, empowering them to make informed, healthful decisions.

The easiest way to start a garden at home is with raised planter boxes like these.

The easiest way to start growing your garden at home is with raised planter boxes with liners.

Food-Smart Kids for Food-Smart Communities

Children take what they learn home with them. Parents and teachers see it every day. Remember when your first-grader demonstrated how to take a sip of milk and shoot it out of their nose? Let’s make sure that same 7-year-old knows their milk bubbles came from healthy, hormone-free cows at a local dairy (or at least from a cow!). That’s the sort of knowledge that rolls up to siblings, parents, and then families and communities as a whole. It feeds young bodies and minds while bolstering local economies and the environment.

Want to get involved in Farm to School Month from home?

Make your yard, patio or balcony an extension of the food knowledge your kids are gaining in class. Container gardening on any scale is a great lesson in growing herbs and other edibles. For small spaces try window boxes and railing planters. If you have a yard, traditional ground beds are great, or try raised garden plots to grow and harvest fruits and veggies right outside your back door.

Photo: FarmToSchool

The sulfur compounds in garlic make it a tasty ingredient and great way to lower your blood pressure.

Growing Garlic in Containers

There aren’t many scents more delicious than garlic-laden food simmering in your kitchen. This bulbous plant is used around the world as a seasonings and condiment. Its popularity has made it a staple in modern grocery stores and specialty markets.

Still, store-bought garlic can’t compare to fresh garlic grown right in your own home. Garlic is a very hardy plant that can even be grown in the winter, so you and your family can enjoy its savory goodness all year long. Growing garlic is similar to cooking with garlic, because both beginning chefs and seasoned cooks can excel at it. And here’s the best part: when you’re growing garlic in containers, no garden is necessary.

The Best Containers for Growing Garlic

No matter what container your select, make sure that it can withstand long exposure to sunlight. Here are two that are perfectly suited for the task.

Tinley ceramic planters. Designed with a tree-bark texture, these planter pots come in black, white, or brown. They are 13″ in both diameter and height, so they’re compact enough for any area of your kitchen, windowsill, or patio.

– Vertical garden with containers. This multi-use product can be used to grow garlic or virtually any herb or seasoning you could imagine. The tough fir frame holds 16 small terra cotta pots that are as cute as they are functional.

The sulfur compounds in garlic make it a tasty ingredient and great way to lower your blood pressure.

The sulfur compounds in garlic make it a tasty ingredient and great way to lower your blood pressure.

How to Grow Garlic

If you’re not sure about what variety of garlic to plant, DigginFood has some great tips about selecting local garlic varieties.

Step 1: Choose a high-quality potting soil. Garlic is known to develop root fungus when grown in subpar soil. Fill your container with your soil, leaving approximately two inches of space at the top.

Step 2: Select the largest cloves and break them apart. Make sure not to break the paper-like wrapper that encases each clove. Plant them 3″ deep within the soil, and 5″ apart from each other. Fill each hole back up with soil, leaving 1″ between the tip of the clove and the surface.

Step 3: Gather straw or bamboo. During cold months, cover your garlic with these materials to keep them warm. Remove them immediately when the weather heats back up.

Step 4: Wait for your garlic to grow. Keep the soil moist at all times. Begin fertilizing it every three weeks with a liquid fertilizer.

Step 5: Harvest. When the bottom third of the leaves have yellowed, it’s time to pick your garlic!

There is an endless amount of recipes you can prepare with garlic. From sauces to meat, your home-grown garlic is sure to be a hit with your family, friends, and guests.

 

Photo: EcoLibrary

Railing Window Boxes on a Brownstone in New York City

Drip Irrigation for Window Boxes

Irrigation Through the Ages

When it came to irrigation, the farmers of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Rome had geography on their side. Civilizations have always sprung up around large bodies of fresh water because of the fertile farmland they produce.

Today’s farmers have invested their resources into modern, high-tech irrigation systems that provide hydration to crops being grown across plains, mountains, and even deserts. Urban farmers aren’t lucky enough to have access to large tracts of land, or proximity to the undisturbed freshwater lakes and rivers that make irrigation simpler for traditional farmers.

The Benefits of Drip Irrigation

Growing fruits, vegetables and flowers in your window box can feel like a daunting task if you haven’t done this before. Window box planters are made from artificial containers that don’t allow for proper water drainage. Hot climates, especially in cities, make shallow soil dry out faster. This is especially true when your window box is exposed to direct sunlight.

Railing Window Boxes on a Brownstone in New York City

Drip irrigation has revolutionized urban farming
 The balcony drip kits listed below are perfect for beginners and seasoned farmers alike.

The solution? Look no further than drip irrigation. This form of irrigation allows water to slowly drip into the roots of your plants. Water application efficiency becomes very high, and your foliage itself can remain dry. Below are three of the top drip irrigation systems for flower boxes on the market.

  • Balcony drip kit with variable timer. This is an excellent irrigation choice for urban farmers who grow in a variety of different containers in the same vicinity. The circuit system can be set up to water window box planters, flower pots, and hanging baskets all at once. Once turned on, this drip kit exudes a water pressure of an even 14.5 ps, perfect for urban gardeners who strive to conserve water.
  • Oasis self watering kit. Are you worried that your urban garden may require numerous drip irrigation systems? If you have less than 20 plants, don’t fret. This kit operates on one 9V battery and is ideal for balcony, patio, or small-scale gardening in city plots with other farmers.
  • Basic drip kit. If you’re not in need of a timer, then you may want to consider this simpler version of the balcony drip kit. The amount of water dispersed throughout each planet can still be calibrated – you can choose for plants to receive between 0 to 1.59 gallons of water per hour.

All of these drip kits come with instructions for urban farmers who may be setting up drip irrigation systems for the very first time. As with all irrigation techniques, make sure to calibrate each planter box according to the specific watering needs of each plant.