Blog Archive

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 2016 Michigan School Garden newsletter


November 2016


Greetings Michigan School Gardeners –


Due to technical difficulties and other issues, we have not been able to get our school garden newsletter out to you.  But now, We're Back! and very happy to be communicating with you again.



Consider composting in your school garden this fall

by Kaitlin Wojciak


Fall is the season when gardens are winding down for the year and we have to prepare the garden for the winter weather ahead. This is often called putting the garden to bed.  Preparing the garden for winter can be an educational experience for adults and students alike. It is also an opportune time to highlight the important process of composting.


As defined by CalRecycle, "composting is a natural process that is managed to optimize the conditions for decomposing microbes to thrive. This generally involves providing air and moisture, and achieving sufficient temperatures to ensure weed seeds, invasive pests, and pathogens are destroyed." The end result of the composting process is called compost. This substance can be used as a soil amendment, with fertilizing properties for the garden.


Composting is occurring in your garden, whether you are intentionally managing a compost system or not. Natural decomposition occurs as leaves and plant debris break down. It can also occur in a managed system, typically producing more compost, more quickly than natural decomposition. This process is an excellent opportunity to highlight a number of science concepts for your students.


There are many benefits to incorporating a compost system into your school garden. Composting can be done on a small scale, perhaps using mostly materials from the garden itself like plant debris and leaves, or on a much larger scale, incorporating cafeteria and lunch waste, along with plant material from the school grounds. What scale your school chooses for a composting system is up to you and your school garden team, depending on what your goals are for composting.


Composting is beneficial for several reasons:

  • It reduces decomposable materials going into landfills
  • It allows you to recapture nutrients from garden plants and surrounding plant materials
  • When composting recommendations are followed, the end product is a safe soil amendment, suitable for use in school gardens
  • Materials for composting are often free or low-cost
  • The process offers an education experience: see LifeLab's Compost resource page for ideas on incorporating composting into your curriculum

If composting is a subject that interests you, MSU Extension has a series of articles available online covering the topic of soils and composting. The articles offer insight into the topic and announce further education opportunities.


Michigan School Gardens in Winter – Continue the Learning Adventure with Seed Saving

by Kristine Hahn


As winter approaches and school gardens are put to bed, it is common leave the school garden and all of its learning opportunities behind until spring.  However there are still many educational activities that can be done during the cold winter months to keep the school garden learning adventure going.  Stay tuned for a series on educational garden activities that are accessible and worthwhile to do in your classroom this winter.


If you use open pollinated or heirloom varieties of vegetable seeds, you can let some of your crop go to seed and have your students collect the seed.  This practice can cut down on your costs of buying seed in the spring, and reveals a new dimension of the food system.  As your school garden program develops, you could start your own seed library.


If you are not familiar with a seed library, it is a depository of seeds held in trust for the members of that library. Members come to the library and borrow seed for their garden. Members then grow the plants in their garden and at the end of the season; they let a few plants go to seed to "return" to the seed library.  The returned seeds are then available for another gardener.  Seed libraries are great for maintaining varieties of vegetables that are well adapted to your local climate, or that have a certain desired color or taste. 


There is a lot of science, history and current events concepts that can be explored with saving seeds, such as genetics (hybrids vs. open pollinated), seed diversity, intellectual property rights and the concentration of the seed producing industry.  Seed saving vividly demonstrates the entire food system, rather than just the part that lands on the plate.  Seed saving also promotes self-reliance and good, nutritional food.


You could even start a seed library in your classroom, with your school librarian or in partnership with your local Michigan State University Extension office.  For example, The North Farm at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center, along with the Transition Marquette Seed Co-op, MQT Growth, and the U.P. Food Exchange have come together to create a program to offer garden support to five schools in the Central U.P. in 2016 called Start Seeds/Save Seeds.  


Rebecca Newburn, who teaches science and math at Hall Middle School in Larkspur, California started the nonprofit Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library at the Richmond Public Library, located near Berkeley.  Newburn's work inspired a group of her sixth grade students make their "Mission Sustainable" project to be opening a seed lending library in the school's library. The students wrote to seed companies, and they "got lots of donations," she reports. 


Seed saving provides "a meaningful way to integrate science into the curriculum," says Newburn.  She plans to integrate the seed lending library with a seventh-grade biology unit on genetics in the hope students will joyfully exclaim, "Wow! These two beans are the same species and can be cross-pollinated!"


For simple steps to start your own seed library, visit the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, or Seed Savers.



School Garden Grant Information

Compiled by Kaitlin Wojciak

We would always love to hear about your garden grant stories, awards or applications! Please feel welcome to write us with them so we can highlight your experience in the newsletter.

140 Difference Grant Contest

Open: April 21

Close: May 31

Individuals, small businesses and nonprofits are eligible.

Award range: $140 – $10,000

This grant requires you to come up with a project idea in the areas of environmental sustainability, animal welfare, plant-based foods and/or food allergies. Applicants sum up their idea in a Tweet, which is 140 characters or less, and submit through this website. Your idea can be tweeted once per day until the deadline. Winners will be selected and notified each week.

American Honda Foundation

Due dates three times per year, next one is August 1

Schools, nonprofits classified as 501(c) (3) s and private or public schools (elementary and secondary) are eligible.

Award range: $20,000 - $75,000 for one year

Apply online at

Captain Planet Foundation

Due January 31st for spring and summer projects

Schools and organizations that have an annual operating budget of less than $3 million are eligible to apply. Projects should be performed by youth and have real environmental outcomes.

Award range is between $500 and $2,500.

Apply online at this link


The Home Depot Foundation

Community Impact Grants currently open

Schools and 501(c) (3) organizations are eligible.

Awards are up to $5,000

Apply online at this link

The Home Depot also has opportunities to match donations from local stores with nonprofits. Follow this link for more information on how to request a match. 

Project Produce Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools

Open: February 1, 2015

Due date: None, distributed on a rolling basis

Any district or independent school participating in the National School Lunch Program is eligible.

Must be submitted by district food service director.

These grants are $2,500 and can assist with offering educational activities in the lunchroom, encouraging students to try new veggies and fruits. Read more and apply online at this link.

Safer® School Garden Grant

Providing a chance for a healthier future is exactly why Safer® Brand is giving away a $500 school garden grant. Submit your application between September 1 to December 1. The grant will be awarded on February 1 to the school. Check out the Safer® School Garden Grant page for more information on why school gardens matter, how to build one and to apply for the Safer® School Garden Grant.

Youth Micro-grants through Karma for Cara Foundation

Rolling deadline, currently open

Youth under age 18 who are working on a community service project (including school and community gardens).

Awards are between $250 - $1,000.

Apply online at this link.


School Garden Educational Opportunities

compiled by Kristine Hahn



TASTE OF ETHIOPIA: Cooking Ethiopian Food with Chef Phil Jones. Monday, December 5th, 6-8PM at Calvary Baptist Church, 1000 Robert Bradby Dr at McDougall and Lafayette. Ethiopian food YUM! A typical meal includes a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes which you pick up and eat with delightful spongy flat bread called injera. Joins us for this class where Chef Phil Jones will take us on a journey through Ethiopian flavors and recipes.


SAVE THE DATE : Starting and Sustaining a School Garden Friday, April 7, 2017 at Charles L. Bowers School Farm 1219 E Square Lake Rd, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304  Registration will be available January 2017.



Plan a visit for fun AND education

You can still visit the butterfly house and other indoor gardens in the winter.


MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm

Ongoing field trips




Putting Legs on the New Science Standards

March 23-25, 2017

Featuring tours at MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm

Suburban Collection Showplace,

46100 Grand River Ave,

Novi, MI  48374

Contact: Michelle Maki

(734) 973-0433


LIFE LAB Workshops at the Garden Classroom


Archived LIFE LAB Webinars



Kristine Hahn

Michigan State University Extension Educator

Community Food Systems

Eastern Market Office

1445 Adelaide

Detroit, MI 48207


248-802-4590 (CELL)

313-567-8726 (FAX)

MSU is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.  Michigan State University programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran status.

"Always be humble and kind." - Tim McGraw


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