Gardening and Farm to Plate Program

New Day Ananda Marga School of Portland was featured in a fall issue of a well known magazine “Edible Portland” published by Ecotrust, that supports sustainable farming and local growers. Their garden program has become a model not just for preschools but also for public schools in Portland Metro. Every year neighborhood public school children, along with their master gardener, volunteer in their magical garden of .75 acres of garden space right in the heart of Portland.

New Day School, Portland, OR, USA

By Suzanne Stone, Head Gardener & Educator

It is a beautiful fall morning at New Day School, a Neohumanist preschool with a strong Gardening & Farm-to-Plate Program, in Portland, Oregon for two-and-a-half thru six year olds. The sun is shining through some clouds gently warming my back, although I feel a cool breeze in the air & hear crunching of colorful autumnal leaves beneath my feet. I am the Head Gardener & Educator at New Day. I feel fall in the air. Myself and my Assistant Gardener, Sheri Love tend to the gardens at New Day School along with the help of the parents of the children here. We are working to create a food forest at New Day School & inspire future stewards & caregivers of our Earth.

As I come to New Day on this fall morning, the outer gardens of spirea, dogwood, vine maple, and rudbeckia welcome me. I notice the school buildings of New Day, colorful on the outside & soft, warm, and inviting in the classrooms on the inside. The first place I walk into is the outside realm of the Sanctuary Garden. Here the green world is as inviting as it was when I first walked up to New Day School. In this Sanctuary Garden, apple and golden plum trees surround me, the beautifully made Ananda Griya cobb building, a living willow & sedum wall, and gentle shade-loving plants remind me of the importance of the quiet of life. The Sanctuary Garden draws me into contemplation and pause before my full day begins.

Quiet contemplation turns into the lively life of the children’s play area, as I walk through one of many gates at New Day, this one surrounded by another apple, a red-flowering currant, ferns & poet’s jasmine. As I move forward, I pass one of New Day’s four rain gardens made by an alumni parent of the school. These four rain gardens collect the rain water from our Kishalay building allowing the water from our rooftops to stay on our land instead of flowing into the Willamette River that runs through Portland, therefore keeping the river healthier. The rain garden is filled with plants such as grasses, echinacea, salal, and currants that can be inundated with water for up to 24 hours, but can also withstand drought conditions.

Passing the rain garden, my eyes are drawn to beautiful wooden raised beds built by Assistant Gardener Sheri Love & a parent to hold flowers & herbs of all colors of the rainbow in the Queen of the Faeries Children’s Garden. This is a sensory garden for children to enjoy: observing, feeling, smelling, tasting & listening. Many potions, soups, and fairy homes are made here, as well as first tastes & smells of mint, lemon balm, calendula, borage & oregano. First touches of the softest lamb’s ear plant, the rough strawflower, and the wiggly worm, and first sounds of blue jays, crows & chickadees all happen here.

Onward I go, past the young Oregon Oak grounding the school in the middle of the play area, offering shade, companionship & structure. Past the beautifully crafted play structures & finally through another gate of jasmine, rugosa roses, yarrow & blueberries into the Kitchen Garden. This is where the beautiful food garden grows to nourish the children.

This is the gardeners’ main realm where we plant, tend, weed, & harvest vegetables, fruits, herbs, and grains for & with the children of New Day School as well as compost all the food scraps & yard debris. Half of the garden has been growing for about ten years now, and the other half was a parking lot four years ago. A group in Portland called Depave assisted New Day School in taking out the asphalt & bringing in new soil for growing. One would not have guessed that once a parking lot existed, as the garden is a budding food forest, full of fruit trees, berry patches, garden beds, an outdoor classroom, and a lovely lavender labyrinth. In the whole kitchen garden, over 1/4 acre, there is a small green house, four cold frames & a few cloches to extend the harvest in this temperate rain forest climate we live in here in Portland. There are over 30 fruit trees, including fig, plum, apple, quince & cherry, more than an alphabet of garden beds, five raspberry patches, three strawberry patches, & almost 30 blueberry bushes. Birds, bees & other insects, worms, and squirrels all call this garden home or visit daily.

As one season rolls into another, spectacular changes take place in this Kitchen Garden. In the spring, the newest green of arugula, swiss chard, spinach, kale, lettuce & peas thrives. In the summer, the garden transforms into a jungle of sunflowers, amaranth, three sister’s corn patches (corn, beans & squash), pumpkin mountains, collard greens, carrots & tomatoes. Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, eleagnus berries, and strawberries all tantalize the taste buds of our young children. The fall brings us the harvest of winter squashes, beans, figs, dry beans, amaranth & quinoa grains. Then into the winter we still have some kale, collards, & lettuces as the garden goes to sleep & shrinks back down into the Earth to rest for the winter. Cover crops of favas, vetch, rye, oats & clover, and blankets of straw nourish & protect the soil from the harsh winter cold.

New Day School is part of the Farm-to-Plate Program movement happening in our world, where schools are beginning to realize the importance of the food we eat, how it is grown, and that love, care and community are important parts of this process. In this Farm-to-Plate movement, children are nourished from the food of a local garden, in this case at New Day School, from the extensive garden that is part of the school & the curriculum itself. New Day children are a part of the whole process from seeding, tending, watering, planting, harvesting, washing, baking, eating & composting. They know and are excited about the fact the plants they are caring for will then care for them. They develop a personal relationship with the plants, the seasons, the sun & rain, the worms, ladybugs & bees without which the garden could not be. With this developing relationship, seeds are planted for our future stewards of the Earth who learn love, respect, thankfulness & nurturing for plants, creatures, land, and all others beyond themselves. “To Earth I come to bring the light, then bring the light to every form. To birds and trees and honey bees, to every plant beneath the sea,” as we sing at All School Circle.

All of the food grown in the New Day School garden nourishes the children in their vegan snacks and lunches prepared by our cooks Didi Atandra & Cook Alex. Last year’s garden harvest from March to December was ~ 3,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits. A mom at our school tallied all the harvest, and comparing the prices of organic produce at local supermarkets, calculated that this harvest was equal to over $10,800 of food. The children’s taste palates grow trying such new vegetables & fruits as parsnips, golden carrots, amaranth grains, and sweet & sour eleagnus & aronia berries. They ask for collard & kale leaves by name & are often seen munching on one of these dark green leaves as big as their heads in the play area. A mom once told me that she knows children who have attended New Day School because they say soil instead of dirt and can tell the difference between lemon balm and mint. The children here are learning the strong connection between the seed we sow, the plant we tend, and the food we harvest which then nourishes us. They are learning the interconnectedness of life.

Along with the Garden to Plate Program, the children are also engaged in Gardening Classes which immerse them in the seasonal changes of a garden through hands-on activities. In the spring, classes are focused on planting seeds both in newspaper pots & in the soil of the garden as well as learning the life cycle of our native honey bees. In the summer, we make sun tea with herbs & flowers, make flower presses to bring home, eat sunflower seeds right from the sunflower head, and harvest our potatoes. In the fall, we make leaf rubbings, save seeds, plant bulbs, grind corn into corn meal, make corn husk dolls, seed cover crops in the garden beds & make grape vine wreaths for each classroom. In the winter, we make Kindness Cream (Calendula salve) that is a balm for cuts & bruises which children then ask for when they are hurt, make paper with seeds imbedded in it so they can plant it in their gardens, learn the parts of a plant, and make douglas fir satchels to bring home. Other projects during the year include raking leaves, caring for our worm bin, natural dying of cloth with plants, washing carrots, snapping beans, husking corn, shelling dry beans, harvesting herbs & flowers for drying and all the work that goes into tending a garden.

Parents log volunteer hours in the garden so that they are also involved in the growing process. Whole families come work in the garden modeling to their children the spirit of community, working together for a greater good. The children feel proud of the work their families do in the garden, often pointing out plants they planted or telling me that their parent watered the garden on the weekend. Many families who did not have a garden before their child attended New Day, begin gardens at home with their children, as the enthusiasm of a young one is contagious. As a result, the children then become the teachers for their parents.

A grandmother of some children at our school mentioned to me the other day that her whole life she has been seeking community, as she feels most do, and that New Day is the warmest, most welcoming community she has found. How can it not be when a hummingbird, trees & plants, bees, worms, spiders, squirrels, children & grown ups all are trying find a way to coexist among a blessed green garden. It is a treasure & joy to work as a gardener at the New Day School and witness the children growing stronger each day as they are nourished by the garden they so proudly tend to. As the autumn winds continue to blow in and the harvest continues to pour in, I am thankful for the connection the children of New Day School have with the circle of the seasons on our Earth. One day when I move into the autumn & winter of my own life, and these children have grown into adults, I long to see the gardens they create & the Earth they have learned to care for. As we sing at the beginning of our gardening classes,

Many green blessings.

“Now it’s fall when the leaves change color and dance to the ground,

 Then comes winter when the wind gets cold and snow all around,

Then comes spring when the flowers wake up and bees pollinating can be found,

Then comes summer when the sunflowers bloom and dance in a circle round and round,

The circle of the seasons

The circle of the seasons

Round and round they go

The circle of the seasons.”