Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Our 2014 goal - real-world experiences for students

Ultimate Schoolyard Garden floorplan
The Catawba River District has just released our 2013 Annual Report and 2014 Plan of Work. Our journey has grown significantly since the inception of the Catawba River District and the vision to support education as the foundation for safe vibrant communities.

Look what a team can do

We have learned and grown.  This year you will see the culmination of a dynamic team of “educators” who have come together to bring our region the Ultimate Schoolyard Garden Display, a feature of the 2014 Southern Home and Garden Show.  But it is much more than that – it’s a collaborative connection of educators from the corporate world, the non-profit world and the governmental-agency world embracing STEM skills, schoolyard gardens, food eco-systems, career awareness, and life skills – all focused on helping our students reach self-sufficiency.  What does that mean and why are we doing it? Much like we are learning that mass-produced fast food is not the healthiest way of eating, mass produced students lack a connection to their “real world”.  So let’s use the real world they live in every school day to make those connections.

Bringing real-world learning to our students

The Ultimate Schoolyard Garden and the Green Teacher Network establish the platform for “real world” experiences at school.  Come to the Spring Show and see how schoolyard gardens relate to every subject matter, every age, while providing a platform for hands-on, exploratory learning.  They not only connect to food and plants but energy, buildings, air quality, and health. Whether you aspire to build that window box or take on a full aquaponics (fish farming & hydroponics in a closed loop water system) project, you will find ideas within the Ultimate Schoolyard Garden.
The Green Teacher Network which is a regional collaboration of educators focused on schoolyard gardens has grown from 40 to over 400 in the past 6 months. We expect the doubling to continue exponentially as the quarterly workshops continue.  We are all educators and all have an opportunity to support each child making that connection to the real world.

We need your help and support

Please share our newsletter with your contacts, Friend us on Facebook and support us financially if you are able.  I’d like to leave you with one of my newest favorite quotes from one of our world renowned Charlotte Gardeners, Elizabeth Lawrence (see  Elizabeth Lawrence wrote the Charlotte Observer garden column for many years.  In her first column in 1957, repeated in her book A Southern Garden, she wrote “the world of gardening is a world as old as the history of man, and as new as the latest contribution of science: a world of mystery, adventure, and romance; a world of poetry and philosophy; a world of beauty: and a world of work…no other undertaking will give as great a return for the amount of effort put into it”.
Join us and get your hands dirty
Edna Chirico, Executive Director

Friday, December 6, 2013

It takes teamwork to grow an Ultimate Schoolyard Garden

CPCC students and teachers assemble the Ultimate Schoolyard display
About the time last summer that Charlotte gardeners were harvesting tomatoes, two-dozen people planted the first seeds for a garden that will bloom next February at the Southern Spring Home and Garden Show.
People who have dedicated their lives to gardening, education, health, nutrition and children decided to put a giant tomato stake in the ground and launch what they boldly called the Ultimate Schoolyard Garden.
Four months later, after much planning, the 30-by-30 display of inspiring garden possibilities is taking shape at local greenhouses and inside the woodworking shop at CPCC’s Harris Campus.
It takes a team to grow the Ultimate Schoolyard Garden. Our team has great talent and dedication.
Designers: First off are the display’s designers. Visitors will be amazed by the display dreamed up by Beth Poovey and her team from LandDesign.


Three weeks ago, carpentry teachers and students at CPCC began using that design to assemble more than 80 4-by-4-foot recycled oak pallets into garden walls, planters and even the representation of an old school bell tower. Fittingly, our project is letting CPCC carpentry students apply their classroom lessons to a real-life project. These classes are also constructing a  greenhouse. We must recognize instructors Tony Hayes and Tom Dermitt for their enthusiastic support.


Two amazing horticulture experts, Annie West and Kaiti O’Donnell, have taken on the challenge of identifying the nearly 2,000 plants that will populate the pallet walls, raised-bed garden boxes and other components of this display.  They are striving to include as many native plants as possible, while ensuring the plants are show-ready in late February. Remember, this show is in the dead of winter when all plants simply want to lay dormant and await spring.

Experts in worms, fish, ozone …

Simultaneously, teams are working on the aquaponics (Sam Fleming), coordinating animal visitors (Catherine Crocker), overseeing an ozone garden (Mary Stauble) and weather station (Terri Bennett), designing a certified wildlife habitat (Mary Bures), helping with a reading nook (Michell Houck), and dealing with compost including worms (Henry Owens) – to name a few of this project’s many facets.

Our students

Next month you will hear more about student involvement through garden art, the communications strategy surrounding this display and how the Green Teacher Network has formed to hold quarterly workshops supporting the growing demand for schoolyard gardens at our schools, and the growing demand for an increased understanding of where our food comes from.

And you!

Please consider supporting this effort through a donation and sharing our newsletter with your friends. 
Contact me for details on how you can provide financial support. Or CLICK HERE to donate online. This is a totally non-profit effort, so every gift large or small will help. 


Edna Chirico, Executive Director, Catawba River District

Friday, October 25, 2013

Meet Megan Lambert: Culinary expert with a heart for kids

Megan prepares salad dressing at the NC STEMing the Gap conference
By Edna Chirico
I’d like you to meet Megan Lambert, a senior instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. She also is a nentrepreneur (you can find her jams at places like Atherton Mill and online at GARNETGALS.COM) and an author. She recently released the paperback, “The Organic Gardener’s Cookbook: Easy Growing Tips and Delicious Recipes for Your Home-Grown Vegetables,” which she co-authored with gardening expert Don Rosenberg.
I met Megan a year ago at one of the first meetings of the Mecklenburg County Food Policy Council. Since then I have had the privilege of joining Megan’s Johnson and Wales students for two of their special instructional training lunches, which were amazing.
Megan has joined the River District’s Ultimate Schoolyard Garden team and is passionate about introducing our youth to the local food eco-system through incorporating her culinary skills into our schoolyard gardening collaboration.
In the last few months Megan, Henry Owens (whom you will hear about in a blog in the near future), Rich Haag and I have begun working on another book, “Ultimate Schoolyard Garden Guide for Educators – North Carolina Piedmont Edition." I will have more to share about our book project in a month.
Last month Megan joined Dr. Cynthia Klemmer (via video) and me in a presentation in Raleigh at the NC STEMing the GAP conference.  The photo you see included here is of Megan sharing samples of her “Parts of a Plant” salad and fresh salad dressing that she whipped up four our audience in just under 2 minutes.
Megan is one of those wonderful people who uses her talents to make our community a better place.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meet the great team creating Ultimate Schoolyard Garden, Entrepreneurial Village

Ultimate Schoolyard Garden plan
To make the vision of the Ultimate Schoolyard Garden and Entrepreneurial Village a reality – it essentially takes a village of volunteers. The team assembled by the Catawba River District has already been meeting since March to develop the design and components of this project for the 2014 Southern Spring Home & Garden Show. These are dedicated professionals who are finding time in their schedules to give back to their community – and we are grateful.

These two projects will debut in Feb. 21 at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show.

  • The Ultimate Schoolyard Garden will pack dozens of doable ideas into a 30-by-30-foot display, including international gardens, rain gardens, aquaculture, hydroponics and garden walls. 
  • The Entrepreneurial Village will give students at dozens of schools a way to market garden-related products, with proceeds going to support their school gardens. 

If a consultant were hired to design and implement this project, it would easily exceed a cost of $500,000. We are doing it on a fraction of that budget.

Join the team by becoming a sponsor

Our development manager, Terri DeBoo, is hard at work securing corporate sponsors.  Please recommend this project to your business network. And please contact me to learn more about how your group or company can support this great project. Send an email or call me at 704-562-8847.
– Edna Chirico, River District Executive Director

Ultimate Schoolyard Garden & Entrepreneurial Village Team

Project Management & Coordination

  • Edna Chirico, Catawba River District 
  • Rich Haag, Catawba River District, Communications
  • Wanda Jean Campbell, Former Gaston County Business Partnership Director – Teacher/Entrepreneurial Village coordinator for Gaston County
  • Shelly Lands, Entrepreneurial Village Accounting/Sales
  • Terri DeBoo, Development & Sponsorships

Executive Board support

  • Kathi Robinson, Novant Health/Catawba River Dist. Board 
  • Ann Danzi, former Mountain Island Lake Marine Commissioner
  • Beth Mack, Nutritionist

Structures team

  • Beth Poovey, LandDesign – Garden Designer 
  • Tony Hayes, CPCC Harper Campus
  • Bert Lynn, Stewart Engineering

Horticulture team

  • Dr. Cynthia Klemmer
  • Annie West, CPCC Cato Campus
  • Kaitie ODonnell, Living Color

School system liaisons

  • Wayne Fisher, CMS STEM Team 
  • Tammy Mims, Gaston County STEM Team 
  • Valarie Yadko, Gaston County Business Partnerships

Mecklenburg Health Department

  • Allison Nelson


  • Allison Marshall, Gaston Cooperative Extension
  • Kendall Kendrick, Mecklenburg Food Policy Council 
  • Henry Owens, Friendship Gardens 
  • Megan Lambert, Johnson and Wales
  • Cynthia Marshall, Communities in Schools
  • Mary Bures, NC Wildlife and Great Outdoor University
  • June Blotnick , Clean Air Carolina 
  • Ron Morgan & Sam Fleming, 100Gardens 
  • Catherine Crocker,  Mecklenburg Coop. Extension/ 
  • Jeffie Hardin, Rivendell Farms – Sustainable Working Farm & Whitewater Academy Garden Coordinator

Green Teacher Network - A Great Beginning!

Network participants experience hands-on math and science using eggs
By Megan Lambert
Tuesday Aug. 20, marked the first meeting of the Green Teacher Network, held at the 1st Ward Creative Arts Academy, the setting for the Wells Fargo Sense & Science Garden, which just might be "The Ultimate Schoolyard Garden"!  The Green Teacher Network is meant to help local teachers, administrators and public health experts to share resources and develop best practices supporting school gardens. There were more than 20 people in attendance, representing the board of education, health department, child nutrition services, and educators from Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties.

Attendees arrived to the sight of the Catawba River District's chicken tractor, with three lovely Golden Comet hens pecking contentedly inside the safety of their fenced yard. After some networking time, attendees were welcomed by Allison Nelson from the Health Promotion Division of the Mecklenburg County Health Department, Mary McCray, Chairperson of the CMS Board of Education, and Cynthia Klemmer and Edna Chirico of the Catawba River District. Edna told the story of the Catawba River District and the rationale behind using school gardens as an accessible way to teach math, science, and other curriculum. Cynthia walked the group through the design of the Catawba River District's Ultimate Schoolyard Garden exhibit, which will take place at the Southern Spring Home & Garden show, in February and March, 2014.

Darlene Petranick discusses how eggs can spark learning
The main speaker was Darlene Petranick from the North Carolina Farm Bureau, representing the Ag in the Classroom Program; Darlene is also a full time K-5 science lab educator at Lebanon Road Elementary School. Darlene let us know that the Farm Bureau doesn't just sell insurance! The NC Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom website is a treasure trove of information, including lesson plans for many subjects for grades K-9 and high school biology.  In addition, the website lists several grant opportunities, including the Farm Bureau's "Going Local" grants, with several $500 grants awarded in each county in North Carolina.

Darlene offered some insider advice to those applying for grants.  First, make sure that you can show a long term benefit to students from your project.  In other words, don't ask to use the award for a one-time only field trip.  Second, mind your p's and q's!  Proudly represent the teaching profession with impeccable spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Grant applications have been denied due to poor writing skills!

First Ward Academy's uptown garden
After participating in a series of egg-cellent hands-on learning activities, using fresh eggs from the chicken tractor, attendees were treated to lunch provided by the Mecklenburg County Health Department and catered by Panera Bread.  (Everyone washed their hands before lunch!)  More networking took place at lunch, with an opportunity afterward to explore the school's garden, which was designed to be both practical and beautiful; it is truly an outdoor classroom and a celebration of all that school gardens can be.

If you were able to attend the event, please email Edna Chirico with your feedback and suggestions for future meetings.  Perhaps you want to show off your school's garden by hosting an event, or you would like to learn more about a particular topic?  If you weren't able to join us for this meeting, we look forward to welcoming you to the next Green Teacher Network Meeting!              

– Megan Lambert is a senior instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University and a member of the team planning the Ultimate Spring Garden for the 2014 Southern Spring Home & Garden Show. She also is co-author, with gardening expert Don Rosenberg, of "The Organic Gardener's Cookbook."