Monthly Archives: March 2015

CNP Informal Interview: Tom Braverman of Iowa City High School

childrens_garden-09-lgThis morning I met and interviewed with Tom Braverman who is a special education teacher at City High in Iowa City. Tom also directs the school’s Best Buddies program which pairs students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with their peers from the general student body. In addition to working together on various projects and other activities, the Bust Buddies students are also in charge of maintaining the student garden at City.

While the direct tie to Scott Koepke is slightly weaker with Tom than it has been with my other interviewees, Scott’s influence has likely helped to at least partially lay the groundwork for City’s student garden. Tom said Scott will visit City’s botany class roughly once a trimester to teach students about plants, gardening, and composting.

Even though some of the students in the Best Buddies program may not be in attendance for Scott’s presentation, they likely share a similar passion for gardening since their work in the student garden is on an extracurricular basis. The garden consists of two self-watering gardening tables roughly five feet by five feet . Since the soil on these tables is less than a foot deep, this area is used to grow various herbs as well lettuce on occasion. In addition to the gardening tables, the student garden also consists of two plots which are roughly four feet by eight feet and are used for tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables.

Unlike the area’s elementary schools – which are generally inhabited year-round because of summer care programs – City High students are usually not at the school during the summer months. This means that responsibility for maintaining the gardens falls in the hands of Tom and the school’s custodians. Though not required to do so, Tom said that City High student Michael McCoullough has volunteered his time in the past.

The garden has hoses that are hooked up to electrical timers so the vegetables can be watered at times when someone cannot physically be there to do so. District regulations regarding fertilizer and other gardening techniques prevent City’s cafeteria from being able to use the produce from the garden so most of it is donated to the Johnson County Crisis Center.

In addition to the student garden, some of Tom’s students also get first-hand farm experience at Friendly Farm in Iowa City which is operated by Tom’s brother Nathan. This is part of a program that gives students real world experience working with about a dozen organizations in the Iowa City area. In the past, Tom’s students have teamed up University of Iowa engineering students to plant pawpaw (papaya) trees as part of an erosion mitigation effort on the farm. The program aims to teach students about potential career opportunities for after they graduate from City.

Again, Scott’s connection here is not quite as pronounced as it has been with other sources but it’s likely that Scott’s influence has helped to develop City’s student garden into what it is today. Over the next month I will begin conducting formal interviews and shooting video for my documentary and I have scheduled to meet up with Tom again in two weeks to do so. I hope that Tom (and the teachers I’ve spoken with) will be able to put me in touch with students so I can also get their insight about Scott and gardening. With just over a month before we present our projects, I’m ready to start putting mine together now so I’m not rushing to get it done at the last minute!

Portraits of Women Urban Farmers: Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 4.37.40 PM The Civil Eats website has a nice look at women urban farmers in a story on the “Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project.”

The story focuses on the five first-year apprentices at Soil Born Farms’ headquarters near Sacramento, California. In a nice spread on diversity, the portraits include:

The Beginner

The Activist

The Ex-Farmworker

The Urbanite.

Here’s a clip:

“Nelida Martinez grew up in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico. She moved to the US with her husband after they got married, and went from one farmworker job to the next, following the growing season. She lived in California 11 years before moving north to Washington State to work for large corporate farms.

“I got a lot of experience from the bigger companies during that time and learned a lot of really useful things, but I also saw some things I didn’t like,” Martinez says in Spanish.

She witnessed the heavy application of pesticides, which pose a threat to human health and the environment and have been linked to some cancers, damaged nervous systems, and birth defects. When her own son began experiencing acute stomach problems, Martinez came to believe it was due to his persistent exposure to pesticides. She vowed that if she ever had the chance to run her own farm, she would forgo synthetic chemicals to kill weeds, insects, and other perceived pests. But owning a farm was a distant dream for Martinez. While census figures show that Hispanic-operated farms increased a significant 21 percent between 2007 and 2012, Hispanic women don’t even constitute 1 percent of all farmers in the US, and even fewer are principal operators.

In 2009, Martinez connected with the nonprofit Viva Farms Incubator Program in Mount Vernon, Washington, which helps experienced farmworkers establish their own organic farms while minimizing prohibitive start-up costs. To sublease plots on the program’s 33-acre site, applicants must graduate from two 12-week courses – one on sustainable small farming and ranching and the other on entrepreneurship and business planning.”

Yale Climate Connections on “Piecing Together” Quilt Project on Climate Change

Picture 15 Yale Climate Connections radio program had a nice feature on a special quilt exhibit on climate change in the National Parks. Called “Piecing Together a Changing Planet,” the exhibit organizers hope the works will “encourage viewers to think critically about these important issues, which confront many of us on a daily basis. We see the art pieces as messengers and want to inspire and excite the viewers. We also hope to nourish the viewer’s eye and soul.”

Here’s a clip from Climate Connections:

“BREMEN: “There is a long tradition going back to the very beginnings of national parks of artists playing a role in garnering support for the idea of national parks.”

The goal of the art quilt exhibit is to get people thinking about how climate change is affecting these national treasures.

The images highlight the impacts climate change is having on our national parks, such as coral bleaching, and damages from destructive storms. One quilt portrays a coastal habitat with a wildfire raging in the background.

To counter the effects of climate change, the quilters hope a stitch in time saves nine.”

Update on my Project

Picture 16Although I missed our meeting, I have been super excited and encouraged this week for our projects! I have had three interviews this week and here is a recap:

Edible MapMy interview with Andrew Hirst was largely a recap of the history of the Gardening Club at the University of Iowa. I wanted to know why the gardens were moved away and off of the main campus of the University of Iowa. Surprisingly, the gardening club is not upset about the move because of the amount of land that allows for a greenhouse and gardening plots. However, there is such a distance from what is happening on and off campus with the gardens themselves. Being able to raise awareness and make the gardens part of campus involvement would be ideal. Another topic widely talked about with Andrew is finding “home” department with University. Ideally this would be the office of sustainability but public health and the geography department were also mentioned. Along with expanding the gardens and moving more onto campus we discussed changing some of the schools curriculum and involvement in sustainability. One idea would be to include a seminar required for all incoming freshman about ways they can help and be involved. such as, explaining the composting on campus.


My next interview was with Fred Meyer (Backyard abundance). Our interview largely consisted of what it takes me make plans for an edible campus and Fred’s previous endeavors with Coe college. Fred pointed out a few areas on campus to me that is actually growing edible food and how easy it is for us to pass by food on campus, even in its current state. We spoke about looking at doing more of a perennial garden verses vegetables to start out because of the up keep and up front costs. Cost was a big thing Fred and I discussed. For 500 square feet of land, it costs about $500. The best approach to financial and up keep with the administration would be to express the amount of money saved in the long run on pesticides and lawn care was well as the learning opportunities available. The largest take away from talking with Fred (aside from his knowledge on plants and edibles) was the amount of people and departments that could benefit from an edible campus. One being the engineering department followed by the chemistry department and global health/sustainability.


My third interview was with a women who runs the organic farm at Iowa State University. (Wiedenhoeft) She informed me about some of the cool things our great agriculture schools is doing. Iowa State is interested because they have a lot of acres that are available for the gardening club. Although many have taken advantage of this there is still a lot of room for growth, giving Iowa a change to come out on top! 🙂


Through these interviews I have been lucky enough to make a lot of connections. I have an interview planned Saturday with a grad in the Public Health department looking to  make the grounds around the building an example for an edible campus! I also have the email for the administer in charge of the Coe college edible campus put in by backyard abundance. I am contacting a teacher from Ames High about studying and being apart of the Lexicon of Sustainability. I will be interviewing my professor who is an environmentalist photographer for ideas about the visual part of capturing this project and last on my list so far is contacting the facility management for University of Iowa to hear their side of an edible campus.

Carry On!

So God Made a Farmer… (and she inspired my new project)

Warning: This Super Bowl ad tugs at heartstrings.

Despite the growing disconnect between food production and consumption in our society, every American can trace a connection back to a farmer; whether it is family, a neighbor, a CSA, the local farmers market, or produce purchased at a grocery store — we all understand and appreciate how important our farmers are. However, as great of a job as Dodge may have done with capturing Americans’ immense pride for our farmers, something pretty important was missing in this ad….


Where were the images of women who clear trees and herd cattle and work long days in the field? How about all the women who also “weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work”?

According to a recent USDA report, the number of women-operated farms in the United States has increased nearly threefold in the last thirty years. That means between the time Paul Harvey wrote his farmer speech in 1978 and Dodge released their Super Bowl ad in 2013, women-operated farms tripled in the US. Tripled!! So why isn’t our media reflecting this rise in female farmers?

As I began contacting people about interviews for my project, I noticed a recurring theme: farmers, scholars, and executive directors alike, the majority of the contacts were women. This strong presence of women in Iowa City’s local food community sparked my interest and I began thinking more about how the role of women in agriculture has evolved over the past thirty years.

And that brought me to the project I’m working on now. I’ve started to look at the importance of women in our local food system. With a special focus on women who were inspired by something (climate change?) or someone and decided to pursue their passion for tending the land/advocating food justice/research, but have not always known they’d work in the agricultural arena.

This is as far as I can hone in right now, but I’m sure with more interviews I will find something. I’m still debating on how I will play a role in this project. Currently, the best idea I’ve come up with is to talk about my aspiration to become a farmer after college and comparing my (future) role as a female farmer with the roles of the previous generations of female farmers in my family (there are at least 3). This could be an interesting historical component as well as an introduction for the rest of my project. But please let me know what you think. I am open to all suggestions!

Interview list so far:

I’ve talked/met with:
Donna Warhover- Morning Glory Farms
Kaila Rome- Crisis Center Food Bank Coordinator
Cassidy Bell — Local Foods Connection Executive Director/ IC Farmers Market Manager
Kate Edwards – Wild Woods Farm (briefly, planning second interview)
Professor Lauren Rabinovitz – Food in America, course at UI

I’ve contacted:
Brandi Janssen- meeting on Friday
Ilsa DeWald
Claire Holmes- Farmhand at Wild Woods Farm/ IC farmers market – meeting on Tuesday

Will contact:
Muddy Miss farms
Fae Ridge Farms
ZJ Farms
Betty Lopata– One of the original IC Farmers Market vendors (30+ years)
Friendly Farms
Earth Biscuit Farms
Draco Hill Farms

Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Stories, Photo Essays

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 9.21.24 AM Check out the website, Conversations with the Earth, featuring indigenous views and stories on climate change. Using photos, video and storytelling narratives, the site chronicles the impact of climate change on bio-cultural diversity. The works also tour as roving exhibits.

Check out this story on food in Ethiopia and Peru: Farmers without borders. Here’s the intro:

“Two indigenous communities, living in highlands on opposite sides of the Atlantic, gathered to discuss one common objective: saving their staple crops from the consequences of climate change, including higher temperatures and disrupted rain cycles. The crops may be different, but the lesson is the same—keep agrobiodiversity alive. That message has now gone out from the Andes of Peru, where a network of communities has been preserving traditional potato varieties, to the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia.

Kids: Turning Country Club Golf Course into Urban Farm

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.46.55 AM Check out this story in the Chicago Tribune on a community effort to transform the former Evergreen Country Club golf course into a five-acre urban farm geared for education.

Here’s a clip:

“Horses, chickens, goats and other small farm animals will give children a chance to interact with them and learn to care for livestock, Sexton said.

Trustee Mark Marzullo said the urban farm is in its early planning stages.

“We are still throwing ideas out there,” Marzullo said. “The village will rely on local volunteers to help manage and keep up the agricultural part of the farm.”

He said children need to learn that there is more to life than sitting in front of a computer or a television set.

“This will give them a chance to see how things were done 100 years ago, before food came in pre-packaged forms at the grocery store,” he said.

The owner of the country club, Anna Mae “Babe” Ahern wanted to sell the land in 1999 to private developers for retail and housing development, but the village declined to rezone the land and the deal collapsed. Three years later, Evergreen Park tried to force Ahern, whose family had owned the land for nearly a century, to sell it to the village for about $4 million.

Ahern contended that the land was worth far more, and a judge agreed, setting its value at $25 million — a price that was too high for the village, which decided not to buy the property.

In 2010, Sterling Bay Cos. bought the land for $7.5 million to develop a shopping center on the eastern half, agreeing to allow the area west of the railroad tracks to remain open for recreational use.

So far, the village has built a dog park, golf driving range and a disc golf course on that land and plans to add the farm.

“We have also built up and are maintaining a sledding hill that has been used by many of us when we were kids. The only difference being that now it’s a legal sledding hill sanctioned by the village,” Sexton said jokingly.”

Student Gardens = Less Stressed, More Attentive Kids?

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 11.52.35 AM A study last year by researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder examined the role of nature and its impact on student performance, stress and attention.

The results were fairly clear: Playing more in nature, during the school day, reduces stress and increases classroom attention.

Do you think the same results would be found for kids who participate in school gardens and local food projects?

Here’s a clip on the UC study:

“Over three school years at the Baltimore elementary school recess site, 96 percent of students in the first through fourth grades chose to play in the woods when they had the option of heading either there, to a playground or to an athletic field. In the woods, the younger children freely engaged in exploratory and sensory-based activities. The older children cooperatively organized activities like building forts and trading found objects.

Teachers at the Baltimore elementary school reported that the students returned from recess with longer attention spans. Some parents said the experience was empowering and critical to their child’s well-being and social and emotional balance.

Students at the Denver elementary school, who completed assignments in a natural habitat, found the process to be an escape from stress in the classroom and at home, according to the study. Twenty-five percent of the students spontaneously described the green area as “peaceful” or “calm.”

There also were anecdotal observations at the Denver school. In one case for example, a group of menacing schoolmates were unable to provoke a student in the green space whose temper normally was quick to escalate, according to the author.

“In more than 700 hours of observations at the Denver school’s green outdoor space, zero uncivil behaviors were observed,” said Chawla. “But there were many incidences of arguments and rudeness indoors, as there are at many schools.”

Among the teenage participants throughout Colorado who gardened, 46 percent referred to calm, peace and relaxation in addition to other positive descriptors when reflecting on their experiences. They also gave four main reasons for their favorable reactions: being outdoors in fresh air; feeling connected to a natural living system; successfully caring for living things; and having time for quiet self-reflection.

For schools that are interested in providing natural habitats for students but only have built outdoor spaces, Chawla suggests tearing out some areas of asphalt or creating joint-use agreements with city parks and open space.

“Schools are really prime sites for an ecological model of health and for building access to nature into part of the school routine as a health measure,” said Chawla.”

ISU Thesis: Broader Impact of Student Gardens on Kids

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 11.35.20 AM A graduate thesis by Iowa State U student Elizabeth Childs in 2011 explored how student gardens impact kids beyond basic nutrition lessons.

Here are some of her conclusions:

“1. Based on the students’ perception of science, Gifft Hill School middle school students are confident in their ability to complete science-related tasks.

2. Student responses reflect positively toward their science ability.

3. Returning middle school students have a more realistic view of science classes than new students.

4. Students recognize the importance of maintaining plants, caring for plants in the garden, and learning how to garden.

5. Females are more inclined to want to plant a garden as an adult than male students.

6. New EARTH students are more inclined to idealize gardening than returning students who appear more realistic toward their approach to gardening, which comes with experience.

7. Students are developing a positive attitude toward eating fruits and vegetables from the garden with experience as seen by the difference between new and returning students, which is consistent with school garden literature (Lineberger & Zajicek, 2000; Koch et al., 2005).

8. Students acknowledge the importance of working with their peers, particularly in the school garden, which from school garden research increases students’ communication skills and ability to work well with peers (Ozer, 2007).”

From Iowa City Ped Mall the White House Garden

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 11.25.03 AM How cool to read this P-C story from December on Scott Koepke’s visit to the White House garden in Washington, DC last fall. According to the author, Scott works with “33 organizations and 8,000 school children and community members annually, covering gardening, composting, soil science, local foods and life skills.”

Here’s a clip:

“Just like seeds that often lay dormant, sometimes the gardening experience doesn’t manifest itself in transforming a life until years after the initial introduction of getting in the dirt,” Koepke said. “I’ve had folks come back to me many years after they worked with me saying that the lessons learned in the school garden helped them through rough waters. I couldn’t ask for anything more rewarding as a teacher.

“The White House kitchen garden experience has affirmed even more the work I’m so blessed to do here with children in school gardens,” Koepke said.

Local farmer and school garden advocate Kate Edwards, of Wild Woods Farm, confirmed the didactic nature of the White House Kitchen Garden.

“I think the White House garden is a fantastic example and a wonderful use of space,” Edwards said in a text message. “Growing a garden is a fantastic way to interact with the food system and to take a vested interest in your own health.”