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

Growing Your Own Food is Independence

This last week has been a whirlwind of activity for KPS4Parents and its Learn & Grow Educational Series. While we were working with students and developing instructional content for children, the political and economic situation in Venezuela took an absolute turn for the worst.

Venezuela is the first internet-connected population of hungry and starving people. Professionals living in high rise apartments with high speed internet are panicked over the absolute lack of food available in the country and desperately trying to figure out how they can grow their own food. Today is also Independence Day in the United States, so the concept of “independence” has been heavy on my mind in light of the situation in Venezuela.

Our Learn & Grow Educational Series was discovered by internet users in Venezuela just over a week ago and, once we realized we had an audience there, we started pushing Facebook ads in Venezuela promoting our gardening and food education program based on using self-watering containers made from recycled plastic buckets and inexpensive hardware. The response to our modest Facebook ad investment has been overwhelming and humbling.

The questions we’ve been getting have been about some of the most basic concepts of gardening, like how seeds work. This situation has made it frighteningly clear what the consequences are when people have not been educated about growing their own food. The thanks we’ve been receiving from grateful Facebook fans and website visitors has been very emotionally moving.

The problem, it appears, is that Venezuela was an oil-rich country for a very long time and the oil revenues subsidized the commercial food supply. People got away from growing their own food and relied on the grocery stores that were stocked with packaged foods, much of which was shipped in from outside the country. Then, the economy collapsed. Oil prices dropped and Venezuela was no longer generating the revenues it once did. The government couldn’t afford to subsidize the commercial food supply, so it stopped. And, now the stores are empty.

The Venezuelan government is now only in business for four mornings a week and the power is cut off for three hours each day everywhere but Caracas, the capital, to save money. Some people have resorted to attacking delivery trucks to steal their food cargoes. People with the money to do so have been grocery shopping on and having their food FedExed to them. The middle class and low-income households have not been so lucky.

Help us teach people everywhere how to grow food anywhere.

There has never been a hunger situation quite like this one and Learn & Grow is in the unique position to do something that helps put the power back into the hands of the people to feed themselves. Granted, if they start now, they’re going to still have some lean months ahead of them before their plants come to bear, but greens and carrots can be ready to pick in a couple of months, as can cucumbers and tomatoes, if started right now. Potatoes can be grown year-round, if the soil is kept warm enough during cool weather, as can onions.

People with small spaces available for growing can collaborate with neighbors in similar circumstances to create growing cooperatives. This may be a good solution for apartment and condominium dwellers, for example, who only have limited balcony space for each home, but collectively have many balconies on which many self-watering containers could be planted.

I sincerely hope that the people in Venezuela who are building their own container gardens are also teaching their neighbors how to do so, as well. Not everybody there is still internet-connected. As the economy continues to tank, I’m not sure how long anybody there will remain connected, so we’re doing our best to push our instructional content for building the self-watering containers and starting gardens while the connection remains.

Right now, the only aid we have any ability to deliver is internet-based instruction, which may not last much longer. This, too, is unprecedented. Rather than dropping food aid from American airplanes, we’re dropping Facebook ads that push our instructional content about how to grow food in front of the people who need it the most. We’re using targeted social media marketing to educate a starving population on a way to feed itself. We are acutely aware that this is no small thing. We are awestruck at finding ourselves in the middle of this situation. It’s serendipity, it seems.

I have to be honest. It was doomsday thinking along the lines of what is now happening in Venezuela that compelled me to create Learn & Grow when I was working on my graduate degree and had to create an educational product for a class. At the time, and those close to me will confirm I’ve said this more than once, my concern was that people in the United States were not worried about enough of the most important things when it comes to freedom. While the Constitution gives us the right to bear arms to protect ourselves from government take-over, the government doesn’t have enough gun-toting soldiers to kick in the door of every American home and take us over that way.

The only way to put every American at the business end of a gun is if Americans are turned on each other with the guns they have the right to bear, and the easiest way to do that is to cut off the commercial food supply. The next thing you know, BMW-driving suburbanites are shooting each other in the streets over cans of creamed corn; hypothetically speaking, anyway. This was my fear, so I created Learn & Grow to teach kids how to grow their own food, then expanded the instruction to include families and communities once I realized how desperately the adult population needed the knowledge, as well.

So, now, here we now have Venezuela going through pretty much the very horror I was envisioning and I’m just heartbroken and mortified. There is no satisfaction in being right about something like the collapse of the commercial food supply in a developed country and the effects such a collapse has on a population. Desperation, if not savagery, has escalated in Venezuela. The crime is rampant. The law enforcement is grossly inadequate and without the resources to do much of anything.

This isn’t me being morbid about the future, anymore. This is reality for millions of people who didn’t see it coming and are now having to deal with the absence of a commercial food supply and nothing else immediately available to take its place.

This is also a severe wake-up call for the rest of the world. Dependence upon a commercial food supply is dangerous to the long-term survival of populations. Creating a dependence upon a commercial food supply gives those controlling the food supply control over the people.

Knowing basic survival skills is an important part of being a human being no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes and robbing people of that knowledge robs them of their independence. No entity should have that kind of control over entire populations of people. There is a significant lesson to be learned, here, and the rest of the world would do itself well to pay attention.

The preventive step is for people who are not already going through economic crises to start their own gardens of whatever type makes the most sense for them, our approach being just one of many. By learning to grow your own food now in whatever types of spaces you have available, you will be prepared should a crisis with the commercial food supply occur. Practice now when your mistakes won’t cost you as much and you can afford to take your time to experiment and figure things out. Learning how to grow your own food after your economy has already collapsed and the stores are already empty makes getting it right the first time a matter of health, if not life.

I created Learn & Grow with the intention of prevention. I wanted to teach kids everywhere how to grow food anywhere so that they could one day survive a food crises, come what may. I never imagined that the time would so quickly come when Learn & Grow would become a means of survival for people in crisis. And, yet, here we are.

By teaching kids how to grow their own food, we equip our future leaders with the skills they need to feed themselves and future generations, and the wisdom to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The remarkable reality of the current situation in Venezuela is that we are able to do so much for so little money, but it’s still costing us money and we’re still a non-profit. We still need donation revenue to keep our non-profit activities going, and that includes the Facebook ad dollars that are getting this important information about how to grow food anywhere to people throughout Venezuela who can use it to feed their families.

There is still time to take advantage of the remaining contact we have through the internet to provide instruction on growing food to the people there, but we need to invest in additional resources in order to be as effective as possible. We are working on Spanish-language how-to materials and videos and will promote them via Facebook ads once they are done, but there are costs associated with this work and we need donations to help cover those costs. Please help us use the tools available to us to equip people in Venezuela with a way to grow their own food no matter where they live by donating to KPS4Parents.

By no means is Venezuela the only country where the Learn & Grow Educational Series stands to be an important part of hunger prevention and relief, but this is where we can be most impactful right now. Donation revenue is needed to expand the Learn & Grow Educational Series into a program that reaches into all the places in the world where it can do the most good. Please help us teach kids, families, and communities everywhere how to grow food anywhere. Thank you for your love and support!

Help us teach people everywhere how to grow food anywhere.

From Bucket to Table: The Life Story of a Squash

At first, there’s the female flower with a little green bulb behind it. Pollen from the male flowers, which are on straight stems, fertilize the female flower, causing the little green bulb to develop into a squash fruit
Once the flower has been fertilized, it dries up and the little green bulb grows into a new, developing squash fruit.

fattening fruit
Over a few days, with adequate water, sun, soil nutrients, and protection from pests, the squash fruit gets fatter and longer.

ready to pick
In just a few more days, the squash fruit is ready to pick.

with other veggies
Squash is delicious when combined with other fresh garden vegetables. All the veggies pictured here were freshly picked from our Learn & Grow test garden.

next on the chopping block
The picked squash fruit is waiting its turn to be chopped up for the skillet.

all chopped
All the squash is now chopped.

chopped with other veg in skillet
All the chopped veggies and squash are in the skillet, waiting to be cooked.

cooking on stove with veg and chicken
The squash and other garden veggies are cooking in the skillet with chicken.

plated with rice
Sauteed squash and veggies from our Learn & Grow test garden with chicken, served also with wild rice.

Relocating a Self-Watering Bucket Container Garden


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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