Food for Thought – Episode 2: Teaching Long-Term Planning to Kids with Gardening

Learn & Grow Educational Series’ creator, Anne M. Zachry, M.A. Ed. Psych., discusses the life lessons that are naturally embedded in learning to grow food and how this is deliberately accounted for in Learn & Grow’s curriculum.

Transcript of Audio from Video:

Note:  The paragraphs of the transcript are numbered for reference in your comments/questions.  For example, “In paragraph 7, you state … My question about that is, …?” 

Anne Zachry

  1. Are you ladies doing all right down there? Okay. Well, there’s nobody here but us chickens, right? [directed at nearby chickens] Let me get this thing off right now; untie it from my gullet. [referring to removing mask]
  2. Hi. My name is Anne Zachry. I’m the creator of Learn & Grow Educational Series, and we’re here in the Learn & Grow Test Garden. And, I’m going to be creating more of these vlogs – video logs – just to bring more information to our audience.
  3. We’re now at the point where we have approximately 45,000 learners following us around the world across three social media platforms. So we’ve got 30-something-thousand on Facebook right now, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 on Instagram. And then we’ve got anywhere between 4000 is 7500 people following us on Pinterest, at any given moment, just depending on how responsive people are what we pin, and so we know that there’s an interest in what we’re doing.
  4. We know that there’s an interest in learning and relearning as a species about how to have control over our own food and what goes into our own bodies. And there’s a lot of reasons why you want to grow your own food. One, again, is control over what you’re eating. If you know what you’re putting into the soil – you know, the nutrients your food is absorbing, as far as fruits and vegetables go … And the same thing with our laying hens here. I feed them nothing but organic scratch and scraps from the garden and scraps from the kitchen, and they’re healthy, well fed girls who lay the most beautiful, healthy eggs. And so, having that kind of control over the quality of your food is obviously one really compelling reason to grow it yourself.
  5. But, one of the problems is that not everybody has open ground for growing; not everybody has a yard. And right now I’m actually having to, through Learn & Grow, rent the space where we’re located right now. But there’s more to it than that, because we also can give tours of the garden and teach classes here, which I wouldn’t want to be able to I wouldn’t want to do from like, the backyard someplace where I live. So on the one hand, it’s a little bit of a bummer that I can’t just walk out of my door and see my food, and my chickens and sit out here and drink coffee first thing in the morning in my pajamas. But on the other hand, you know the ability to give people access to this and to invite them into the garden to view it without disrupting a residential situation is also preferred.
  6. So this is a unique situation. The garden did actually start out as a backyard garden. So, and then we added the chickens. But, it’s amazing what you could do even with limited space. And one of the reasons why we do our gardening method the way we do with the self-watering containers is because it is portable. You know, I’ve moved this garden now six times in seven years, and I still have things that I started from seed in the very, very beginning … my goji berry in particular … that is continuing to produce and give me food every year. And I don’t have to invest more into it than water and fertilizer now and again, and it takes care of me, so long as I take care of it. And my end of it is a pretty light deal. So I’m … so I’m pretty happy about that.
  7. The other thing that you want to look at too, especially if you’re a family with children … and I’m coming at this from the perspective of an educational psychologist and a behavior analyst: I do curriculum development, I help create customized tailored educational programs for students with learning differences, including some pretty significant disabilities … so, I’m accustomed to looking at someone as an individual and saying, “Okay, this is what you already know. This is what you need to learn. This is where you’re at developmentally right now. And, this is what we’re in a position to teach you at this moment, with these longer-term objectives in mind.”
  8. And so, in educational planning, you’re looking at long term. You know, “What is it going to take to get this child to the point where they can function independently as an adult, or as independently as possible?” But then you’re also looking at in the moment, “What can I teach you right now? What’s the first step towards that long term goal? And what order should I put things in?”
  9. So that’s where I come from. From the standpoint of educational program design. And when you’re talking about children, there’s more to this than just the science of, “This is where food comes from.” It’s not just, “Oh, that’s interesting.” When you’re talking about empowering people in adulthood to be able to be independent and take care of themselves, you don’t want to do anything that’s going to create any kind of dependency on an outside system like the commercialized food supply. You want people to be able to feed themselves, even if for whatever reasons, there’s no food in the stores.
  10. And for our folks in Venezuela, I’m preaching to the choir. I already know that. We’ve been supporting you guys for a long time. But … with our education …
  11. But, with folks who are in other countries where the prospect of the grocery store suddenly being empty just seems impossible, well, this pandemic has proven a lot of folks wrong about that. And, granted, it was a lot of human behavior that was responsible for that … people freaking out and hoarding things when they really didn’t need to. But that just goes to show, people panic. And then how do you get your food if people panic and take all the food out of the stores, and there’s nothing left for you and your family?
  12. And so there’s a certain amount of peace of mind that comes with knowing that if I’m growing my own food, come what may, I can get by. And so you know, that’s another piece of it. There’s another piece … a valuable piece to all of this, especially for children, and that’s something that’s has been lost, because we have gotten away from growing our own food. And that is teaching children how to work towards a long term goal, and a long term payoff.
  13. We have become such an instant gratification-based society! There’s a quote from The Simpsons. Homer Simpson going, “Forty-five seconds? But, I want it now!” And that’s kind of how people have become. And, you know, the less amount of time it takes to make something happen, it’s like the more impatient they get.
  14. And because of that, we have people who just really have no concept, even in adulthood, of how to work towards a long-term goal, and they don’t even think that way. And that is not an advancement of our species. That is regression. That is a loss of mental ability. And, if we’re going to continue to evolve as a species, we cannot have these systems that reinforce dependency, and deprive people of the knowledge that they need in order to remain independent.
  15. And so that includes learning how to work towards a long-term goal. So you set a long-term goal, and then you should set short-term objectives to get to it. And that isn’t really taught in our education system anymore.
  16. I think we’re starting to realize that that was a huge problem, and we’re coming back around to it. But, you know, we still have a lot of rebuilding of that kind of mentality to go. And, you know, it isn’t, “Better Living Through Chemistry.” Chemistry is not better living. It might be better living for the chemical company owners, but it’s not better living for mankind.
  17. And so to get back to the point where we’re doing what we were designed by nature to do, and living closer to our natural design, and not to shy away from technology, or progressive development, or progressive politics or anything like that, because the more we do to expand our minds, the better we become at taking care of each other as a species.
  18. And … but we’ve got to get away from this competitiveness. We’ve got to get away from, you know, this “Us versus Them” mentality. And we’ve got to become more independent. And we’ve just unfortunately, as a species, just gotten to this place where we have become so dependent upon these systems that were created, originally for convenience. And now they’re not convenience anymore, they’re necessary for survival, because people don’t know how to take care of themselves without those things. And that’s not a sign of progress at all. It’s just another form of slavery.
  19. And so, you know, there are always forces at play of individuals who can’t think collectively of the common good, who are very selfish and egocentric, who are always going to look at how they can exploit the masses for the benefit of their themselves exclusively. And that doesn’t benefit society as a whole, it doesn’t benefit the species as a whole.
  20. And so there has to be less disparity between the people who are in power because they know things and have access to things to the rest of us don’t, and those of us who can’t avail ourselves of those resources. We have to be able to function autonomously without all of that, and so food independence is a huge part of that. And just the idea that you can work towards a long-term goal.
  21. So when you’re, you know, you’re teaching your children how to garden, we’re planting seeds today; we’re not going to have food tomorrow; we’re gonna have to wait a few months before it can turn into something we can eat. But then when that time finally comes around, and that reward finally comes, and they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, literally, they get it.
  22. And then that idea of, “Okay, sometimes you got to work long-term to make something pay off,” doesn’t seem like such a foreign concept to them. That, they’re like, “Oh, well, this is just like growing beans. I’m going to plant my seeds today. But I’m not going to harvest my beans for another 90 days or so.” And so, this idea that you have to wait; that you have to delay gratification; that the things in life worth having do take a little bit of work, and they take time to play out and you’re not going to get what you want right away.
  23. And so you can be encouraged that it looks like things are moving in the right direction. And that will encourage you to keep working at it. But it’s not like you’re done, you know? And so you keep going. And the garden has really been a living metaphor of that. You plant your seeds, something grows, eventually food comes from it.
  24. Some of the plants are perennials, so they come back year after year after year. I don’t have to change anything; I just have to keep fertilizing and watering. Other things only live for a season, and then I’ve got to pull it all up and put something new in. And so there’s all of these life lessons embedded in all of that. So gardening is healthy for children for a number of reasons.
  25. One, you know, first of all, it’s preparing them for life in adulthood, come what may, that they’ll still be food secure, no matter how the commercialized food supply is operating. And secondly, it’s going to teach them very valuable lessons that you really don’t get from any other curriculum at school about working towards a long term goal.
  26. I mean, when you have to write a report or a paper, and you know, you have the whole semester to write it, that sort of the same thing. But to get a kid to appreciate the value of that is really hard. So growing food, it really isn’t that difficult to connect the value of working towards the outcome, because you get to eat the outcome. And it’s something tangible, and it’s something reinforcing in and of itself. Iit’s gratifying to know that you’re eating this meal right now, because you chose to grow the food, you picked it, you cooked it, it’s all you. And that’s very empowering.
  27. And so, you know, in a world where everything is in flux right now, and we don’t know what’s going to come next, we don’t know what’s going to happen with economies, what’s gonna fall, what’s gonna stay, we know that we’re going to go through continued upheaval until things kind of settle out. And so we can reasonably expect that over the next 20 to 30 years, things are not going to be you know, copacetic, that we’re going to be constantly going through dramatic changes. And we’re probably really not going to settle back down again, for a while and really realize the true time of peace for possibly, like 50 years from now that this is going to be constant. And so our kids today are going to be living a lifetime where the bulk of the first part of their lives is going to be full of these conflicts that have to be resolved. They’re cleaning up messes made by the generations that came before them that didn’t know any better.
  28. And so you know, there’s a lot of learning from the past mistakes that has to be done. And not everybody’s being exposed to the knowledge necessary to overcome that. And so, you know, I really want to be part of what contributes to making things better. And reintroducing food security and food education and gardening education back into the lives of our children and youth goes a long way in a lot of different ways towards that end.
  29. And so I just wanted to share that with you, I want you to be aware that that’s something that I have consciously thought about in designing the Learn & Grow Educational Series and how I wanted to function, because it’s more about … it’s not just about teaching people how to grow their own food. As much as that’s like at the core of it, it’s really a much bigger curriculum than just that. The other part of it is that all of our K-12 lesson plans, for example, and all of our Boy Scout badge content on our website, for example … all of these things are Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities. And project-based learning is proven by the educational research and science to be one of the most effective ways of teaching. It’s more effective than pencil-paper kinds of tasks, you know. You can go into a class and show a video on seeds sprouting and where plants come from, and where food comes from and everything. But it’s not the same thing as doing it yourself. And having that hands on experience makes it real, and it makes the teaching meaningful.
  30. And so that’s what we’re looking at with Learn & Grow as well is to provide teaching moments, meaningful teaching moments for children, and for young people and adults as well. I mean, it’s not all about children, but that’s the population that we’re reaching out to most aggressively, because they’re the ones who are going to be inheriting this Earth and we can’t have them inheriting it in ignorance.
  31. So I appreciate you joining us for this video and learning a little bit more about Learn & Grow, and I look forward to bringing more to you soon. Thanks so much.

How to Pet a Chicken

Quiet Riot, our Silkie, enjoys getting scratched on her neck, under her wings, and along her back before scampering away to play.

Using Repurposed Materials to Combat Ground Squirrels

After ground squirrels dug up one end of the Learn & Grow test garden, Learn & Grow Educational Series creator, Anne Zachry, explains how she used pieces of an old chicken pen to create a barrier to prevent burrowers from tearing up the garden.

Food for Thought – Episode 1: Food Security During Times of Crisis

This is Episode 1 of our Vlog, Food for Thought. This episode is titled, “Food Security During Times of Crisis.”

This video discusses the use of an old urban gardening technique, self-watering containers made from 5-gallon buckets, as a means of ensuring food security for individuals, families, and communities regardless of the economy and condition of the commercialized food supply.

The Learn & Grow Educational Series was created according to best practices in educational program design to teach people everywhere how to grow food anywhere.

#FoodSecurityIsFreedom #TeachEverywhereGrowAnywhere

References: Compost Tea vs. Leachate –…

Transcript of Audio from Video:

Note:  The paragraphs of the transcript are numbered for reference in your comments/questions.  For example, “In paragraph 7, you state … My question about that is, …?” 

Anne Zachry

  1. Welcome to Food for Thought, a vlog published by the Learn & Grow Educational Series. My name is Anne Zachry, and I’m the creator of the Learn & Grow Educational Series. Today’s vlog is titled, “Food Security During Times of Crisis.” In this post, we’re discussing strategies that people can use to keep their families food secure in times of shortage and scarcity.
  2. I created Learn & Grow using best practices in educational psychology to teach children, their families, and their communities how to become more food secure and less dependent upon the commercialized food supply, no matter where they live. That hasn’t changed since I first created Learn & Grow’s evidence based curriculum.
  3. To be honest, it was a combination of worrying about not being able to afford groceries for myself and daughter at the time, combined with concern over a catastrophe that could collapse the economy and leave the grocery stores empty, that prompted me to start my own self watering container garden. I created Learn & Grow to share this easy and affordable gardening method that can be used almost anywhere with others, so they can become more food independent as well.
  4. And now here we are in the middle of a global pandemic in which the shelves are bare and grocery stores around the world as people sit at home and avoid gathering in public places like grocery stores to avoid spreading disease. Not to be sassy, but I saw this coming and, to everybody who thought I was a zombie apocalypse doomsayer when I first started the garden, I say, “There’s no joy in being right about this.”
  5. I’ve already been down the food crisis road before, in a manner of speaking, with our audience in Venezuela. Learn & Grow was started in 2013. In 2016, the Venezuelan food crisis hit and the traffic on our website from that country suddenly went crazy. I was looking at the backend stats for our site and saw the sudden increase in traffic from Venezuela and was, like, “What the heck is happening in Venezuela?”
  6. One search of the internet later and I knew what was happening. Learn & Grow was providing guidance to the world’s first web enabled starving population. They had access to the internet, but no access to food. At first, people in Venezuela who had the means started ordering food from Amazon, but when that started not to work out, anymore, people in Venezuela turned to the internet to learn how to grow their own food as soon as they possibly could because they knew it would take months before they’d have crops they could eat and they needed to get started right away. Some people panicked because they had no open ground for growing.
  7. Once I realized what was happening, I spent about $20 on Facebook ads to push our instructions specifically to Venezuela with powerful results. That was one of the best $20 expenditures I’ve ever made. One gentleman in Caracas sent a very emotional direct message on Facebook to us thanking us for sharing our instruction because he lived in a penthouse with nothing but a concrete balcony and didn’t know what he was going to do until he saw our self-watering container solution in our Facebook ad. I learned the power of social media marketing to push instruction rather than sales from that experience, and have used that knowledge to continue promoting our instruction, which is what I’m doing, here, again.
  8. I already manage my food like today could be the last day I’ll ever be able to go to the store. When this pandemic hit, I already had staple ingredients that I could use to cook a whole bunch of different things from scratch, particularly in combination with things I’m growing in the garden and eggs from my laying hens. I don’t live large at all but I commit what resources I am able to keeping the garden and the chickens going, because they cost less over the long term than buying groceries.
  9. As long as I have access to the chickens and garden, I can last for a while without going to the store. Dried beans, brown and wild rice, quinoa, flour, sugar, baking spices, oils, and vinegars are included in my cabinets. Cheese, butter, goat milk, half-and-half, and meat are also mostly store-bought at this point. I buy meat in bulk, vacuum seal and freeze a bunch of it, and only keep what I intend to cook soon in the refrigerator.
  10. When I have excess produce from the garden I dehydrate, pickle, freeze, or candy extra, or otherwise give it away. I regularly give away extra eggs when all three of my laying hens are producing I have almost three dozen eggs in the refrigerator right now.
  11. The gardening method around which Learn & Grow is based uses self-watering containers made from recycled or inexpensive food safe 5-gallon (or, 19-liter) bucket, plus a couple of other inexpensive pieces. Each self-watering container occupies 1 square foot (or, 0.3 square meters) of space, making them suitable for small spaces not typical for growing, like patios, balconies, paved lots, and rooftops. They can also be used indoors with growing lights.
  12. These containers are portable, conserve water, self-regulates the water to the individual needs of each plant growing within them, take up little space, and give the gardener total control of the soil quality. When you know what’s going into the soil, you know what’s going into the food you eat.
  13. By repurposing used food-safe 5-gallon buckets, which you can get from restaurants, bakeries, and delicatessens for free just by asking, you keep these plastics out of landfills. The average Panda Express in Southern California goes through a single 5-gallon bucket of cooking oil a day, and all that plastic just goes to the dumpster if someone doesn’t ask to take it off their hands.
  14. Often you can go to a restaurant, bakery, or deli that gets its food supplies in 5-gallon buckets, ask the person behind the counter if they will save the used buckets for you, and arrange to come pick them up once they’ve collected a few. I’ve done that with a pizza place in my local community before.
  15. The point I want to get across, here, is that in light of what is going on these days with economies collapsing or on the verge of doing so, and resources soon to become scarce because of a reduced workforce that can’t make new resources available to everyone fast enough, the importance of food independence has never been more clear to modern society. It’s time for the human species to remember that buying food in a store is a convenience, not a necessity, and that all human beings have the right, if not the responsibility, to grow their own food.
  16. I promise you that growing your own food in self-watering containers, while not entirely trouble free, is generally super easy. The challenges include making sure your containers are positioned where they get enough, but not too much, light for the types of plants growing in each one; making sure you have access to water to top off the reservoirs of each container; and making sure the drainage from the containers has adequate runoff from where they sit or catch trays beneath them to keep the drainage from the containers from getting on the area where they sit. The latter concern can be important for indoor and rooftop gardens.
  17. If you are concerned about food security for yourself, your family, and your neighbors, seriously consider starting your own self-watering container garden using our free instructions. It’s super simple and relatively low maintenance. Once you get everything planted, you’re mostly just refilling the water in the reservoirs as needed, occasionally fertilizing, possibly spraying organic bug treatments if necessary, trimming old growth, and harvesting food. You can reuse the same containers for years. Our garden will be seven years old in June 2020.
  18. We’ve moved it six times since it was first created and still have plants started in the first year that are still going strong in their original containers, our goji berry thicket in particular, which now gives us several crops per year of this incredible superfood that otherwise costs a fortune, all dried up like raisins at the store. I started it from seeds indoors and transplanted them into one of the very first containers I ever made. It took five years before it seriously started to produce, but it’s been a berry-making machine ever since.
  19. It just started to bloom right now, and the first crop is just a couple of weeks away. I’m all excited about it. It’s not that I didn’t spend money to get goji berries; it’s that the money I spent will give me goji berries several times a year fresh off the bush at no additional cost. The upfront cost of making goji berries happen is being defrayed over every crop the bush now produces. Eventually I’ll have to spend something like $8 to replace the five gallon buckets if I get new ones, but it will cost me nothing if I get used ones. I might as well spend the $8 on takeout Chinese food and hit the restaurant for empty buckets while I’m there.
  20. If you can incorporate these strategies into your lifestyle, it won’t be some huge endeavor like tearing up your backyard and putting in something that will leach water away in the soil and allow for burrowing pests to come up under your plants to eat the roots. We use earthworms and beneficial nematodes in potting soil to maintain a healthy growing environment for our plants. The nematodes eat the eggs of insects that lay their eggs in soil. This prevents the eggs from hatching, which prevents the hatched larva from attacking the roots of the plants as well as growing to maturity and spreading throughout the garden.
  21. I use organic fertilizers in my self-watering container garden, feed my laying hens organic chicken feed, and occasionally use dirt with chicken waste and feathers in it from the bottom of the chicken pens as fertilizer. I have some green lentils growing in a container right now that I fertilized with chicken pen dirt, and they are the happiest, lushest, greenest lentils there ever were.
  22. We also have a vermiculture composter that uses earthworms to break down garden waste into fresh compost and leachate, which is basically the runoff of excess water that’s been put into the compost to keep it damp. Some people call leachate “compost tea,” but compost tea is actually specifically brewed, whereas leachate is just excess water runoff that passed through the compost and picked up particulate matter with bacteria on it along the way.
  23. Both compost tea and leachate can make great liquid fertilizers. The compost tea can have more aerobic bacteria, which are the kinds that promote healthy soil because of how it’s brewed, and leachate can sit stagnant for a while, which decreases the amount of aerobic bacteria in it the longer it sits. Leachate is most effective when it has not sat stagnant long enough for a significant amount of aerobic bacteria to die; they will thrive once they get into the soil. There’s a link below [the link is actually above this transcript] that explains the difference between leachate and compost tea.
  24. It isn’t just the fact that you can easily grow your own food this way. If you have kids, this is a huge opportunity to teach them by example about where food comes from. Chances are, they will want to get involved, and, to quote guerilla gardener Ron Finley, “Kids who grow kale will eat kale.” If you have kids in your life and they are old enough to understand that there is no food in the stores right now, growing their own food can give them the peace of mind of knowing that there will be food in the near future that they have made happen, regardless of whether food is back in the stores or not at that time.
  25. Going through a time of shortage is a rude awakening for most people, but the anxiety it can produce in our children is significant. This can become a time of trauma or a time of self-sufficiency, depending on how you handle it as a parent. If you’re raising children right now, my heart totally goes out to you having to parent under these current conditions.
  26. Giving them some sense of control over their access to food by having them grow something, even if it’s just a bucket full of carrots, will go a long way towards protecting them from feeling helpless and vulnerable. Teaching kids to solve problems rather than be victimized by them will help kids emotionally handle what is going on these days and make them feel safer about the future, should some more significant disruptions occur later on.
  27. This immediate COVID-19 pandemic is something that will eventually pass and cost us enough to appreciate the value of preparing for next time when it could be worse. Further, in the northern hemisphere, it’s just about Spring and the gardening centers are full of baby fruit and vegetable plants just waiting for new homes. Now is the time to start your own self-watering container garden.
  28. If you don’t have enough space to grow everything you want, you can coordinate with neighbors to each grow different things in your respective spaces and share with each other. An entire apartment building with balconies and/or available rooftop space could start a growing cooperative among its tenants using self-watering containers. A senior living facility could start a community garden in self-watering containers in its common outdoor area. The containers are the perfect height for sitting next to them in a chair on a patio to tend to them.
  29. An inner city school could start an indoor self-watering container garden in a basement with growing lights or outdoors on an unused area of paved lot. A community youth center could start a self-watering container garden in its outdoor area or on a local unused paved lot as well.
  30. Renters who can’t put anything in the ground without leaving it behind if they move, or whose landlords won’t let them plant in the ground, can still use self-watering containers. Homeowners can replace lawns and in-ground gardens with container gardens to repurpose used food-safe plastic buckets and keep them out of landfills, conserve water, control for burrowing pests, control for soil quality, automatically regulate soil moisture, and have the ability to move the containers around to adjust for lighting needs throughout each growing season or otherwise rearrange the garden as needed.
  31. We truly hope this vlog inspires you to start your own self-watering container garden and decrease your dependence upon the commercialized food supply. Please take advantage of our free online instructions on how to make your own self-watering container garden from our website and social media. Links are provided below [the link is actually above this transcript]. Please don’t forget to like this video and share it out on your social media.
  32. All the content herein is copyrighted by Anne M. Zachry, and used with her permission by the Learn & Grow Educational Series, a division of the Institute for Educational Equity, which is a nonprofit organization. All rights are reserved.

The Value of Patience

artichokes growing in a self-watering container in the Learn & Grow test garden

In our ever-increasingly rapid-paced world, we have become accustomed to real-time results to many of our efforts and inquiries, which amounts to instant gratification. Surrounded by these experiences, it is easy for developing young children who are still processing the world according to intuition rather than logic to misperceive this constant stream of instant gratification as the only kind of gratification to be had.

The danger in this is that it fails to teach children the value of patience and planning things for the long haul rather than immediate, short-term benefit. One of the most compelling reasons that KPS4Parents has based our instructional content on gardening is the fact that gardening takes time. One of the critical concepts that children must learn about where food comes from is how long it takes to grow it.

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The Connections Between Our Two Areas of Expertise

For those of you who only know us for the Learn & Grow Educational SeriesSM and its efforts to teach sustainable living concepts and methods, you might be interested to know that KPS4Parents, our non-profit organization, which owns the Learn & Grow Educational Series, has a whole different side to it. KPS4Parents also works with families of children with disabilities and helps them navigate the bureaucracy of the special education system, as well as other publicly funded programs and agencies created to serve their needs.

The types of services we provide as lay advocates, experts, and paralegals to these families may at first seem extremely different from our work with Learn & Grow, but it really isn’t. This post explains why.

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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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Operation Dwarf Banana

UPDATE: Since this article was originally posted, our dwarf banana tree has gotten approximately 3 feet/1 metre tall. Scroll to the bottom to see a more current image of it.

20160720_181007 1Recently, I wrote about the recent developments in Venezuela and its current food shortage crisis. In response to the growing demand for information about growing food using our self-watering container methods, I also added a survey to the Learn & Grow website for a few days asking our visitors from Venezuela to tell us about their challenges with growing their own food.

The feedback we received was powerful. In addition to technical questions about self-watering containers and concerns over access to materials, we also got a lot of questions about how to grow specific types of plants, which is what prompted today’s article. Somebody wanted to know about growing bananas.

It had never occurred to me to find out if one could grow bananas in the type of containers we use, so I went on a quest and found that there are edible dwarf banana plants that can be grown in fairly large pots on patios.  They need adequate draining so their roots don’t rot, potassium rich soil that leans to the acidic side, but not too acidic, and lots of hot sun, so they are best suited for tropical and subtropical climates.

I’m located in Southern California. The neighbors have a banana tree that is slowly taking down the fence between our houses because it grows so prolifically. Clearly, bananas like our climate.

My concern was the amount of root space a banana tree, even a dwarf variety, might need. I figured, there’s only one way to find out, so Operation Dwarf Banana was officially launched. I found a dwarf banana variety for $5.99 on and it was shipped to me in days.

I went shopping and got a bag of small lava rocks to mix into the potting soil so there would be sufficient drainage, as well as the materials to build out a new self-watering container. There is no room in any of the other containers in our test garden, and I expect the plant to need as much of the root space as possible, so I had to give it a brand new home.

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Holes cut for the drain & pipe Holes drilled for drainage Weep hole drilled Built container

I built out the container. Then, I put a thin layer of lava rock gravel over the bottom of the upper growing chamber and a little in the inverted atrium drain that serves as the container’s wicking basket.

I poured regular organic potting soil into the upper growing chamber on top of the layer of gravel, but didn’t fill it all the way up. Then I added a little more gravel and then some more potting soil, and stirred them together with my hands so that the gravel was fairly evenly distributed throughout the soil.

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After that, I planted our little baby banana tree in the container, placed it on the deck, and filled the reservoir with water. I also moistened the top of the soil to help get the wicking action going so water will easily percolate up from the lower reservoir of water to keep supplying the roots of the plant with water.

Bananas are rumored to be very thirsty and require daily watering if in traditional patio containers. I’m curious to see what its water consumption will be in the self-watering container. The reservoir only holds about a gallon-and-a-half of water, so this little banana plant may still require daily watering.

Right now, this is totally an experiment. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and having a food source rich in potassium like bananas growing in a family or community garden is never a bad idea, if it can be done, so it’s worth it to figure out what can be done.

You can follow the progress of our little banana tree on our social media, along with the rest of the Learn & Grow test garden here in Southern California. We are working with others around the world and expect to have a Learn & Grow test garden in India before the end of this year, which will also be exciting to follow.

You can follow the progress of the plants in our So Cal test garden on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Our biggest collection of gardening tips can be found on Pinterest, as well. Wish us luck with Operation Dwarf Banana! We hope to have a new food crop that we can teach other people to grow.

Our dwarf banana tree as of December 2017