Food for Thought – Episode 5: Comparison of Total D.I.Y. vs. GroBucket

In this episode of Food for Thought, Anne Zachry, creator of the Learn & Grow Educational Series and her colleague and Learn & Grow volunteer, Isabel Arreola, compare a total DIY version of a self-watering container to a self-watering container made with a GroBucket by GroTech (

Those of you who have been following us for a while should remember Isabel from our original Spanish language how-to video that we made a few years ago, mostly in response to the Venezuelan food crisis, about the total DIY method of building out a self-watering container, which has since been viewed on Facebook about 166K times at the time of this current post ( We recently reposted it to Instagram ( It lives on our YouTube channel as well (

While anyone interested in self-watering container gardening will find this video interesting, this is also good information for gardeners with Vision-Related Disabilities (VRDs) who may find the GroBucket approach more user-friendly. Isabel has a VRD and teaches others with VRDs how to access school, community, and employment, as well as live independently, in Sacramento, CA.

If you are interested in building your own GroBucket containers, you can order them at the following fundraiser affiliate links:

A portion of all proceeds (approximately 3% of the sale price) goes back to the Learn & Grow Educational Series to help cover the costs of our food security and sustainability curriculum, instructional programs, and online information.

#grotech #grobucket #sustainability #gardening #organic #selfwateringcontainer #selfwateringplanter #TeachEveryWhereGrowAnywhere #FoodSecurityIsFreedom #LearnAndGrowEdSeries #waterconservation #repurpose #recycle #portablegarden #gardeningforrenters #rentersgarden #apartmentgardening #condogardening #townhousegardening #hungerrelief #foodsecurity #fooddesertsolution

Food for Thought – Episode 4: Teaching Diversity Appreciation Via Permaculture

In our fourth episode of Food for Thought, Anne discusses how project-based instruction using companion planting and other polyculture techniques illustrate how diversity is a natural phenomenon that can be used to maximize the benefits for all involved. It can serve as a neutral topic of instruction illustrating that understanding how things naturally work best together produces superior results than competing for resources, which can then be used as the neutral lens through which we examine human diversity and its function in modern society.






Food for Thought – Episode 3: Teaching How Systems Work Through Gardening

In our 3rd episode of Food for Thought, our director and creator of the Learn & Grow Educational Series discusses how to use gardening to teach kids about systems, how they work, and how they interact with each other to create larger systems.


Fundraiser: Buy non-GMO seeds for your own self-watering container garden (affiliate link) –

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. Hi, my name is Anne Zachry. I’m the director of the Institute for Educational Equity, Inc. and I oversee one of our divisions, which is our Learn & Grow Educational Series.
  2. Today’s topic: We’re going to be focusing on using gardening to teach children about complex systems, because we’re using gardening to not only teach people how to feed themselves, but also as a vehicle for critical thinking skills instruction and problem-solving skills development. And so we’re looking at gardening, not just as a standalone thing to learn, but its greater role in the lives of humans.
  3. The standards for California, particular the science standards, are very rigorous. There’s a really big expectation that the math and the written language, the language arts component, is going to be woven into history and science. That’s sort of the expectation under the Common Core. And the whole point is to teach kids about how all the little constituent parts come together to make this whole that is greater than simply the sum of its parts.
  4. And in psychology, the term we use for that is “gestalt,” which is a German word. And basically, that’s what it means is that the whole is greater than simply the sum of its parts. And the way that I learned it was, if you think about an intricate timepiece, you have to assemble all of those parts together in a particular kind of way. And then when you do what you have is greater than simply a big pile of hearts on the table. Now you have a thing that is something that does something unto itself, when all those parts are put together, and they all work together in a complex system.
  5. So, when you’re talking that biota, that kind of environment that you create in your self-watering containers, the soil, and the quality of the soil, and the life that you put into it, it becomes its own little ecosystem. But this is a really, really creative way to teach children about how complex systems work together, not just in general, but specifically in nature.
  6. You know, when you use the example of our garden, where we’re taking the stuff that we cleaned out of the bottom of the chicken pens back in March, and as we go through and fill them up with with soil and top them off with more fresh dirt and, you know, go to fertilize and we’re fertilizing them with that leftover dirt from the chicken pen. It’s turned out to be some pretty potent stuff. And so we have used it now to fertilize a number of the containers.
  7. That’s actually what I was doing before I started filming this video, was just putting, you know, a shovel full of old chicken poo dirt into the container that I pulled something out of, and a little bit of potting soil, and mix it all around, and put new seeds in, and water and stand back. And you know, in a few days, we’ll start to see some sprouts coming up and in a few weeks we’ll have a whole bunch of really cool stuff.
  8. And so that’s what we’ve been doing. And also things that are already established that look like they can use a little, you know, pick me up, we put some of the old dirty chicken pen dirt in there too. So to be able to use that and have that also serve as a closed system, because we’re raising our chickens to give us eggs; we’re taking the garden scraps and feeding them to the chickens. And so whatever doesn’t get eaten by people comes back to the birds.
  9. And so that becomes a closed loop, then they create waste, we eventually have to clean all of that up, it becomes compost, we let it set off to the side for a little bit. And then once it’s gotten nice and “eww-y,” then we start shoveling it into our containers as they empty out and need to be replanted. What was created as waste in one situation in the garden has now become food for something else in the garden. And it’s sort of self perpetuating. And there’s not a whole lot from the outside that we have to keep bringing in.
  10. So when you’re talking about closed and open systems, you know a closed system is one that is completely self contained where it takes care of itself. And what we’re trying to make happen in our homemade aquaponic system is along those lines. That is intended to be a closed loop system because once it gets established and going, the roots of the plants are going to clean the water through the gravel and absorb all the particulate and bacterial things and nutrient things that are being created by the fish pooing in the water. And so the fish will create fertilizer for the plants in the water and it will support both the plant life and the fish life, and then the roots of the plants are going to clean the water and oxygenate it, which will benefit the fish.
  11. An open system it’s more like our chickens where there is some closure to it because garden scraps and kitchen scraps that are generated from food we grew in the garden will ultimately come back and go to the chickens, which comes back to us as eggs. And so, to a certain extent, there is a closure there. But, we’re also having to supplement their food with organic chicken feed that we bring in from the outside. So to that extent, it’s an open system. The egg shells can also come back and go into the vermiculture composter.
  12. And so we’ve got a composter, that whatever vegetable matter, plant matter that we’re clearing out, that wouldn’t be appropriate to feed the chickens – you definitely don’t want to feed chickens raw onions or garlic – but those kinds of things can go into the composter. And, that compost breaks down and we’ll run water through it, because we have to keep it wet for it to compost, and the leachate, which is the runoff, gets collected and then we dump that into the containers as fertilizer as well. Whatever rots in the composter becomes food for whatever is growing next. We’ve got this closed loop, where – this closed system – where we’re using what we grew to make fertilizer for what we will grow down the line.
  13. And, it’s the systems that already happen in nature, that’s just the way the universe is put together, that has allowed human beings to figure out how systems in general work. We observe these things in nature, and then we repeat them in our own artificial creations. And so if you look at like, for example, the supply chain, the automated supply chain, or especially like, if you’re talking about the commercialized food supply. Good Lord! I mean, the industry that goes into that!
  14. So, you’ve got hundreds of square acres of produce being grown, and these big monstrous tractors that go and, you know, combines and whatnot, that go ripping through the earth and tearing things up and putting things down, and cutting things and harvesting things, and then they get packaged up. And then they get trucked to some packaging plant, and then they get cleaned and prepped, and the good stuff gets packaged up – the pretty ones – to go sell on the produce section of the store. And all the bumpy, ugly ones get chewed up and run through some kind of process to make processed food. And that gets put into a box and vacuum sealed and shipped off and stuck on a shelf somewhere.
  15. And when you start looking at how complex these systems are that we have created to meet our needs, or at least we think we’re meeting our needs, sometimes what we end up finding is the systems we’ve created for ourselves are more cumbersome, more costly, and are less efficient than the ones that exist in nature. And so while we’ve gone through this phase of scientific development, and this burst of technology, in the last 150-200 years, you know, the newness and the novelty and the, “Oooh! Look what I can do!” at some point has to wear off for the species, because, just because we can make something doesn’t mean we should.
  16. So the point is that when you’re trying to teach kids about systems and the complexity of systems and how all of these different pieces come together to make something happen, assisting your students or your own kids, if you’re helping with work at home, to do this research and to parse out, you know, “Okay, well, these are the different constituent parts of this complex system, and this is how they all go together to make, you know, things work.” You start to realize, “Good Heavens, is this really how things work? Is this really how the universe comes together?”
  17. And when you look at the systems in nature, they may be brutal, and they may seem cruel, but they’re efficient. They’re highly efficient. They’re meant to eliminate waste, and achieve balance.
  18. And then you look at the systems created by people, and they’re not as balanced and they’re not as efficient. Because people are creating systems that just don’t make things happen in a clean and practical way. They also work their agendas. When people create systems, very often their personal interests and their emotional motivations will color how those systems come together. And this is how biases become institutionalized.
  19. You know, we say nature’s cruel because it’s blind to these biases, and so, whatever advantages we may have because of biases are lost, because nature doesn’t care. You know, for example, COVID-19 does not care about your balance sheet. It doesn’t care about your income taxes. It doesn’t care about how much money you do or do not make. What it cares about is whether it can invade your cells and use them to replicate itself. And your economic status has nothing to do with whether or not your cells are vulnerable to penetration by a virus.
  20. And so nature is indifferent to all of these systems we’ve created for ourselves, and that’s a harsh reality that a lot of people are struggling to comprehend. What’s normal to people is relative to the circumstance they find themselves in. What’s critical about teaching kids about systems, and the complexity of systems, is they start to identify where they stand in the grander scheme of things. They start to see that the little “micro-verse” that they live in is actually a bigger part of this “macro-verse.”
  21. If you want to go according to Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological explanation of human development across the lifespan, you have little Microsystems, which are the little environments that you always interact in: home, school, work – the places you normally go – the places where you normally interact with other people and their systems – where you’re interacting with others and things are being made to happen within those systems.
  22. But then immediately outside of that is what’s called the Mesosystem. And the Mesosystem is where all of these Microsystems exist. And then outside of that, you have what’s called the Exosystem.
  23. And, you’ll have … the Mesosystem interactions are like, home and school communication when you’re talking about parenting, and having to, as a parent, communicate with your child’s teacher. The school classroom is one Microsystem that the child participates in, and home is another Microsystem that the child participates in. But when mom and the teacher talk to each other, now you’ve got this interaction between two Microsystems that may not even involve the child – that is happening without the child’s direct involvement. But it involves things the child is directly connected to in two different settings. So what goes on around the child between those two microsystems is called a Mesosystem event.
  24. And then you have Exosystem events, which are things like mom’s employer. Whether mom gets a raise or gets laid off from her job, the child’s not directly involved in that, but that definitely directly impacts the child because mom is going to come home with either more or less resources to support the family. The same thing can happen with the teacher in the classroom, that whether the teacher’s budget gets increased for the classroom, or it gets reduced, has direct impact on how that child is going to benefit from that classroom situation. But this, again, we’re talking about a complexity of systems because now you’ve got the Exosystem acting in a way that impacts a child, but indirectly. And then outside of that, you’ve got, you know, the Macrosystem, which is like the community at large and all the different social rules and social norms that affect the Exosystem events.
  25. And then you’ve got, outside of that, the Chronosystem, which are time sensitive things are going to affect everybody who happens to be alive at that moment in time, just because it’s one of those things. Like, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example … the Great Depression, World War Two, the death of Princess Diana. And so, every once in a while, there’s just something that only the people who were alive when it happened will ever truly understand what it was about. And it’s going to be interesting how history remembers what’s happening right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Because this is, like, one of the first Chronosystem events of this magnitude that has this much verbatim record keeping. You have so many people taking videos at home and wherever they happen to be. Here, I’m serving a perfect example of that. Here I am in our garden, adding to the public domain and the knowledge about what people can do to become more food secure, especially in times like these.
  26. And, you know, I’m able to talk in real time about this Chronosystem event that, 100 years from now, is just going to be something that people will only know about, because they watched a video like this one, or you know, 1001 Tik Toks I know that have been produced in the last few weeks. And so, you know, there are these things that only those of us who are around right now are ever going to be able to fully relate to. And when you understand how these complex systems affect each other, and how they interact with each other, a Chronosystem event is going to be of a big enough magnitude, it’s going to force us to change our behaviors on a systemic level. What is normal today can be completely asinine tomorrow, just based on what the facts on the ground are and how quickly they change.
  27. This Chronosystem event has now changed so many people’s behaviors on a global level, just with something simple, like wearing a mask. And now what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. Can I help you? [directed at a nearby chicken clucking for attention] What starts out as this Chronosystem event affects the Macrosystems. How our cultures, how our societies, how our cultural norms change, because now it’s normal no matter what culture you are in to wear a mask if you’re going to go outside. That didn’t used to be the case just a matter of weeks ago. And that just happened globally. So now you have what was the Macrosystem, what’s normal in your community versus what’s normal in another community; now normal has been changed in Macrosystems around the world because of this single Chronosystem event.
  28. And these Macrosystem changes are having Exosystem changes, because now what’s happening: We have school closures, we have all these businesses closed, we can’t interact with each other the way that we use to. All of our Exosystems … all these Exosystem events are happening, that are affecting how we interact with our Microsystems. And then it also affects how our Microsystems are connecting with each other or not.
  29. When you’re explaining complex systems to children, you first have to understand them yourself. And so one of the things that will be included with this video is, in the links below [actually, the links are above this transcript], I’ll include links to information about Bronfenbrenner and his socio-ecological model of human development.
  30. And he made the observation that human beings are the only species that we know of, at this point, that is aware enough to be able to alter its environments on purpose, in order to improve how we individually develop. We can shape environments that will make all of us healthy and happy.
  31. If everybody actually understood how all of these systems interact, and how all of these things play into human development, across the lifespan, there would be so many different decisions being made by voters and representatives around the world. We would have so many different outcomes for human beings regardless of where they are and what they’re going through, because everybody would get, “A causes B to happen no matter what.”
  32. And you can argue against it. You can say, “I don’t want to believe in that.” But, if A equals B, if one plus one equals two, it is what it is. And, once you understand just the black and white cause-and-effect relationships of how these systems play into each other, interact with each other, and affect each other, then you become that much more effective explaining it to your kids and in giving them guidance as to how to make informed decisions using that knowledge.
  33. And then you become a good model of it. You become better at modeling how to use that information to make good decisions, because your awareness increases. And that’s the wonderful thing about being a teacher or a parent, is the more you interact with your kids to explain things to them, the more the life lessons start to resonate with you. And the more competent you become as a problem solver and as a critical thinker and as responsible adults.
  34. And so, let’s just keep you safe. And if you want to help me explain you can, okay? Yeah. [directed at persistent chicken wanting attention]
  35. You know, the cool thing about teaching with the garden and, you know, I have the added benefit of the laying hens as well, is that you’re going to have these naturally occurring examples like the system of the life in the buckets, and the system of the life in the aquaponic tank, and the system that we have with the composting, and the system that we have with the chickens where, you know, we’re cycling food through their …
  36. What? [directed at attention-seeking chicken]
  37. So, thank you for joining me and Quiet Riot as we explain how to teach complex systems to children using gardening as your teaching medium, your teaching vehicle. You know, it’s really not that complicated. It basically provides you with its own examples without you having to, like, invent anything.
  38. Complex systems are easily explained by just taking what already is, and narrowing it down to something relatively focused like, you know, okay, ladybugs eating the aphids off of the tomatoes. The garden is a controlled situation where you can allow nature to take its course. But you’re using nature to your advantage to accomplish something. And so it’s because you’ve got everything self contained in those buckets. It’s scalable; it’s not this big, enormous thing that you have to work really hard to explain, “Here’s the big overarching big picture.”
  39. You can reduce it down to just what’s going on in a bucket. And so for kids, that makes life a lot easier when you can focus in on something that’s a little bit more narrow, but it illustrates a grander point. So that’s our video today on teaching complex systems to kids using gardening as your teaching medium and your teaching vehicle.
  40. Quiet Riot and I hope that you found this informative and that you’ll look forward to coming back for more information from us with our other videos. If you do like this video, please of course like below and subscribe. If you have questions, of course, you can always email us or comment below, through our website and just contact us.
  41. Or, any content you think would be valuable for us to include as part of Learn & Grow, by all means, please suggest it. If there’s something you’re looking for, and you can find these things and Learn & Grow might be a good source of information for what you’re seeking, but you’re not finding in amongst what we’ve already created, we’re happy to create new stuff. You know, for every one person who asked a question. There’s at least 100 other people who had the same question who didn’t ask, but would very much appreciate the answer.
  42. So, like, subscribe, support us. Donate if you can. We’re a nonprofit organization and every little bit helps. Again, thank you for joining us and we look forward to having you join us against soon.

Let Us Make You a Garden

If you are located in Ventura, Santa Barbara, or West Los Angeles County, California, and would like a custom-built self-watering container garden, but don’t have the time to put it together yourself, we are making ourselves available to collect the recycled pieces, pre-cut the parts, and deliver your container garden to you using proper social distancing measures and safety equipment.

Upon arriving at your location with the containers, soil, live plants, seeds, earthworms, and beneficial nematodes, we’ll assemble and fill the containers on site. We can leave them safely in the front of your location and you can move them around to your liking once we have left. We can help you place them where you want them so long as proper social distancing methods are achievable. Once they are where you want them, you can fill the reservoirs with water and off you go!

Sometimes, just getting a gardening project started seems so daunting that it’s hard to make it happen. But, once it’s started, especially with self-watering containers, the work is fairly minimal to keep it going, but the rewards are well worth it. Compared to other methods of gardening, the cost-savings in water alone make the initial investment in getting things started minimal by comparison.

The Learn & Grow experimental teaching garden

This is a fundraising effort to help cover the costs of our non-profit food security and sustainable living curriculum. Most of the per-container fee goes to the costs of building your garden; what is left over goes back to Learn & Grow to cover the costs of publishing our instructional materials online, operating our experimental teaching garden, and expanding our curriculum to include other aspects of living sustainably.

The investment you make to get started will pay for itself several times over the span of years that you grow food in the containers we provide. You will have healthy, organically grown garden-to-table food that you can take with you if you ever need to relocate, and which can moved around to meet changing lighting needs throughout the year as the seasons change, conserves water, keeps plastics out of landfills, reduces your independence on the commercialized food supply, requires no open ground for growing, and can be scaled to fit in oddly shaped and/or small spaces.

Once you have placed your order, we will contact you to find out what you want planted in your containers and schedule delivery. If you have any questions about your order, you can email us at or call us at (805) 292-2003. You can also DM us from our Instagram account and Facebook page.

The next big dream: The Learn & Grow Tiny House!

Our next big undertaking is to have a tiny house built to our design specifications for the purpose of providing instruction regarding sustainable living. This will include grey water recapturing for the garden, rainwater collection for in-home and garden use, alternative energies, and sustainable building methods and materials.

We will be incorporating the Learn & Grow self-watering container gardening and laying hen care instruction with the new sustainable living instruction for our online and in-person learners. In the future, our tiny house will be part of the Learn & Grow instruction, along with the garden and our laying hens. We have eventual plans to add bees for honey and goats for dairy.

We have recently formed a new non-profit organization, the Institute for Educational Equity, Inc. (IEEI), of which the Learn & Grow Educational Series is now a division. We are now incorporated in the State of California and are in the process of assembling and submitting our application to the IRS for our 501(c)(3) status.

Your financial support will help us cover the professional services costs and filing fees to get our paperwork in order, purchase equipment and materials for our instructional programs, create new online and in-person (eventually, once this whole COVID-19 mess is over and we can safely do so) instruction, and cover the rent and fees associated with the space currently occupied by our experimental teaching garden.

If you don’t need our help to start your own container garden or your outside our local area, but still want to help out, you can always donate to us at

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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