From Our Garden: Okra

Okra, known as Lady Fingers in some parts of the world, forms an elongated fruit from each flower. The flowers only last for a day or two and the fruits are ready to pick just a few days after that. Okra is most commonly prepared in stir fries and sautées. This okra plant is growing in a self-watering container made from buckets recycled from a restaurant and some inexpensive parts. #TeachEverywhereGrowAnywhere #FoodSecurityIsFreedom

New Self-Watering Container Garden Built in India

About a year ago, I encountered my friend, Avanish, on Facebook through mutual online friends in the organic gardening realm of the web. We both had a common interest in sustainable living and our online conversations started around Learn & Grow.

At about that same time, the virtual assistant I’d had could no longer continue in the position and I needed someone to replace him. Avanish ended up taking on that responsibility and he and I began speaking almost every weekday for anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours a day from that point forward. He’s learned my special education advocacy and intervention caseload and helps me stay on top of all my responsibilities, including running my calendar, all from his smartphone in Gwalior, MP, India. I’m located in Southern California, USA. Technology is amazing.

But, virtual assistant awesomeness aside, my collaboration with Avanish started with Learn & Grow and the intent was always for him to build his own container garden in Gwalior. Sourcing the tools and parts turned out to be a challenge, but we ultimately figured out that we could order everything through Amazon. The PVC, soil, and plants were locally purchased. And, now, Avanish has started his self-watering container garden in Gwalior using the same methods we use in our Learn & Grow test garden here in Southern California!


Here is Avanish’s photo story of building out his first two containers to start his garden:


This is an exciting moment for us. The Learn & Grow Educational Series started in 2013 in my little apartment patio/yard with a few self-watering containers that served as our test garden. Today, the original garden has approximately 40 containers and a chicken coop and pens that hold five laying hens. We are using social media marketing methods to push instruction on how to have food security and food independence in these uncertain times, in a way that can be scaled according to each person’s available space and resources.

Our audience has become global. We get the most fascinating stories and inquiries about food security, gardening methods, local fruits and vegetables, and worries about the future of food availability from people around the world through our social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram. We are thrilled to have our methods replicated in a country where access to food is a serious concern for millions of people and growing their own food using our methods could be one of many tools used to combat hunger and poverty in India.


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Relocating a Self-Watering Bucket Container Garden

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Our Learn & Grow Educational Series test garden was started in June 2013 as an experiment motivated by my personal curiosity about food, people’s relationships with it, their understandings about where food comes from, food education in our schools, the nutritional values of food served to students in our public schools, the relationships between nutrition and student success, and the myriad other factors that interrelate with all of these named concerns. My brain started traveling down this path after I saw Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution and his TED video, concurrent with a Facebook friend’s irate posts about GMOs in our food supply, about which I’d known little until he’d started posting.

Mr. Oliver’s whole mission is to educate every child about food, where it comes from, and what makes it healthy or not. He is correct in presuming that our public school system has a huge role in fostering or undermining healthy eating habits in children, given that we send our kids to school for six hours a day, 5 days a week for 9-10 months out of the year and that millions of them eat lunch at school, if not both lunch and breakfast. In my sister’s children’s school district in rural Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding area, the poverty is so pervasive that breakfast and lunch continue to be served to children throughout normal school breaks, such as summer, to make sure they don’t starve.

As a child and family educational advocate, the connection between food education and learning was obvious to me and starting the garden was the first step to me really wrapping my head around the issue involved and start thinking of ways that KPS4Parents could make a positive contribution to this instructional need. My first thought was that Mr. Oliver’s campaign was dead on the money when it came to identifying the issues, but he only addresses what to do with fresh vegetables once you have them, which is to prepare and eat them. He’s a chef; that’s the knowledge he brings to the table and it is incredibly important knowledge to be shared.

Mr. Oliver’s research revealed that three generations of Americans in a row have failed to teach their children how to cook from fresh ingredients such that most people only know how to heat up processed packaged foods or eat out. His goal to equip students with a number of simple recipes that they can competently cook for themselves before they leave school is something I can enthusiastically support. He’s right; it needs to be done.

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My questions, though, became, “Where are students going to get the fresh fruits and veggies, especially in food desert communities? How can you pass on the skill of cooking to people who can’t get the ingredients in the first place?”

While not all food sourcing issues can be resolved with our Learn & Grow Educational Series gardening approach, it can still become a critical part of feeding people in hunger at a relatively low cost, particularly if the buckets can be obtained for free, gently used from local restaurants and bakeries.

So, my gears started turning around those kinds of issues. Also in my mind was all the information about how to make self-watering bucket containers like I’d done and how they had been promoted for urban gardening in limited spaces, as well as how they could possibly be used with older adults who maybe couldn’t get down on their hands and knees to pull weeds in an in-ground garden, anymore. We built our first community service garden at the same property that now houses our test garden for an older gentleman who is dependent upon a wheelchair and finds that he can sit and reach into the self-watering bucket containers we built and put on his deck, where there was no way he could access plants in the yard, even in a raised bed.

In the Fall 2013 semester, I took Instructional Design and learned how to create learning products around instructional outcomes and teaching methodologies. It was a required course towards my master’s degree in educational psychology and was a mix of marketing psychology and evidence-based instruction. It was fascinating and it gave me a vehicle to develop this whole self-watering bucket container solution into an instructional product that could, for at least some children, fill the gap left by Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution with respect to sourcing the foods that kids should be taught to cook.

20141026_122040Fast forward to August 2014 and we could no longer keep the garden at its original location. It had to be moved. “No worries,” I said. “One of the perks of using self-watering bucket containers is that they are portable.”

After promoting these self-watering bucket containers as portable and, thus, appropriate for renters who wanted to be able to take their gardens with them, I got the chance to prove it. And, I did. Continue reading Relocating a Self-Watering Bucket Container Garden