Food Education and Community Building: Lasagna-style

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Farm to Table movements are gaining visibility. In addition to supporting sustainable agriculture and food justice, the production and consumption of food on a local level is increasingly recognized as an opportunity for experiential education. One such garden learning lab can be found at Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) in the San Dieguito Union High School District. Under the guidance of CCA teacher and garden leader, Jeannie Chufo, over 20 students and community members gathered at the school garden, tasked with its reinvigoration. They were assisted by Sustainable Solutions partners (and graduates of Solana Center’s Master Composter course) Jamie Accetta and Jeff Bishop, who proposed turning the school’s raised beds into lasagna gardens.  Jamie and Jeff were extremely helpful, bringing compost, tools, and expertise. Volunteers enjoyed a sunny, November Saturday building lasagna gardens in the eight raised beds on site.

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So, just what is a lasagna garden? For the plants and the decomposers living in one, it’s just as tasty as the name suggests. Lasagna gardening (also known as lasagna composting) is a process that involves neither digging nor tilling, but layering carbon-rich ‘brown’ organic material and nitrogen rich ‘green’ organic material to build a sort of layer-cake of growing media. And a long-lasting treat it is: because of the sustained interaction of layers of greens and browns the garden produces its own compost, providing a continual supply of nutrients to both its’ rooted and wriggly inhabitants (not to mention providing a little break for the busy gardener). In addition to being nutritionally self-sustaining, lasagna gardens are fun and accessible projects, especially if you have a group of friends helping out!

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The CCA lasagna gardens were compiled using cardboard, juice pulp, alfalfa, straw, seaweed, and stale bread source from the school cafeteria. (Although any compostable materials do the trick, the greater the variety of materials used, the greater variety of nutrients released in the decomposition process). Using tools provided by Solana Center’s Tool Lending Library, the volunteers were able to breathe new life into these materials and into the CCA school garden beds. An “overwhelmed and inspired” Chufo reached out to volunteers following the event:

 Perhaps the most inspirational part of the day was that there were parents, community members, teachers, teacher’s children and students working side by side to make it happen.  I feel certain you made a lot of folks excited about playing in their own yards… you were teaching all of us how to live better.” 

 And it’s true. Numerous studies have demonstrated that young people, especially, experience psychological, emotional and academic growth from engaging in outdoor learning experiences. Edible gardening, specifically, has been shown to improve and sustain healthy dietary habitats in youth. Young people who have worked in community gardens report (among other benefits) increased self-confidence and environmental stewardship, as well as greater camaraderie with community members of all ages. Gardening brings people together; learning about and growing food cultivates benefits for the mind, body, and community at large.

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The school is already incorporating food into applied studies programs, and with great success. CCA’s ROP Business Management program builds a mutually beneficial partnership between students and food services, using the school café as a laboratory. Chufo describes the program as a “transformative” experience for students and school food alike. With Chufo at the helm, CCA is poised to develop an even more extensive educational program that delves holistically into the multi-faceted relationships between food and business (make that local food and local business). The larger vision, which blends “nature, science, technology and business,” includes a gardening program for ROP Environmental Horticulture students and a farm-to-table program that unites both ROP disciplines in a ‘demonstration-style class’ that would take place right inside the school’s industrial kitchen. Ultimately, Chufo’s mission for the program is “to reconnect students with their food using a 21st century model of food studies and distribution,” and CCA is on track to make this vision a reality.

Has all this talk of lasagna gardening made you hungry for some community building in your area? Gather family, friends, colleagues, and other interested folks to build some self-sustaining raised beds for your home, school, or business. Invite them to bring all their compostable materials, both the classic (yum, moldy food scraps) and the unconventional (dryer lint, anyone?)- the more material, the better. Don’t forget to add your plants at the end!
Send photos of your lasagna garden party to compost@solanacenter.org or post them on our facebook page!

Happy (lasagna) composting!

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Who said your helpers had to be human?

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