FBI (aka From Big Island around these parts) is now more than a cool local name brand. Student gardeners learned today that FBI are critical compost organisms that recycle nature's waste and turn it into soil nutrients. F = fungus (mushrooms and lichens that feed on wood and plant particles). B = Bacteria (food for worms and other microorganisms). I = Invertebrates like sow bugs, cockroaches, milipedes (bugs that eat organic matter and the bugs that eat them). Together, FBI turns banana peals to black gold.
Composting is enabling FBI to do their work in a specified spot so we can get rid of plant waste and create a pile of nutrient-rich soil for distribution into garden beds. Students found our waste piles alive with all kinds of wiggly critters and stringy white mycelium. Now they know FBI as the original recyclers; organisms we should love and appreciate. Even emulate.
Long live FBI.
Last week was the first day teaching a new class called "Trash Treasures." I offered it to grades 1-6 as a choice for interest groups. Nine children, all grades 2-4 with eight boys and one girl, signed up to explore the world of morphing "trash" into "treasures."
Our first assignment was turning our school's old utility sinks that were bound for the landfill into beautiful and functional flower planters for our gardens. We started with painting the sinks. One sink ended-up a neat camoflauged pattern with the menancing smile of that face seen on airplane bombers centered around the corner of the sink; a result of five fourth-grade boys given free reign and multiple colors to design their own planter motiff. The other sink, painted by younger boys, the only girl , and myself, ended up adorned with butterflies, flowers, trees, and praying mantis. All did an exceptional job that threw me for a loop as intriguing as it was to be expected. They loved painting secret messages on the bottom.
Next stop was the mulch pile, to load up plant "trash." While the old sinks/new planter paint dried, we gathered mac nut husk mulch, shredded paper (office trash), manure (cow waste), and fish guts (fisherman fertilizer). These ingredients were layered into the dried sinks and thouroughly watered. We picked seedlings from the garden and planted them into the filled-up sinks; calendula for the camo, warrior style sink and firecracker grass for the flowery one.
Trash Treasures is going to be fun! One super-stoked boy even busted out with, "This is the best interest group ever! Trash Treasures is awesome!" All wiggly children were engaged the entire class; our garden scores two beautiful and useful planters; the landfil is minus two bulky plastic sinks. A win-win for everyone and the planet!
Next week: turning stained trunks into reusable sandwich bags!
Burnt beans. Sprinklers left on overrnight. Gate left open. Words flowing like gravel.
Yesturday was a rough day. And not even a Monday. I am still trying to figure out what happened but am finding comfort that Ms. Hiro thought to turn off the beans before the kitchen burned down, Mr. G turned off the sprinklers and replaced the timer, no pigs unleashed garden mayhem and kids are forgiving (most the time).
No damage done on Yesturday, my most uncoordinated day teaching garden ever. I reason one day out of four years isn't bad. Fun and learning happened; the kids mowed the beans I managed to re-spice to smoky perfection; the garden needed a deep watering. All is still well in the Wonder Gardens.
I've always wanted to record shifting moods. There are days where the children as a whole seem to be asleep or out of control. When campus is loud as a circus or mellow as a nap. Is it the moon? Or the universe? Or the water?
The craziest garden class I ever taught happened 15 minutes before a lightning storm actually struck the school. It was the only time an entire 1/2 grade garden class was so unruly with their tools that I made them put down their weapons and sit on their hands. The bolt that struck our back fence reminded me that there are monumental albeit invisible forces affecting our bodies and actions. Maybe kids go crazy because their bodies feel the electricity in the air. Maybe I spend a day tripping over myself because of some planetary shift I don't even know is happening. Maybe students are lazy because the tides are swelling.
It is easy to forget that we are all part of nature. Wheather we can identify the effects and cycles of gravity and the moon, water and our bodies, or storms and human activity isn't as important as acknowledging that universal forces are there; just as much part of nature as burnt beans and ferel pigs.
Amaranth has a farming history 7,000 years strong; as long as humans have practiced agriculture. The grain boasts the highest protien content of any plant; edible greens packed with minerals like iron, calcium, magnesioum, phospohorus, potassium, zinc, copper, maganese and vitimins A, K, B6, and C; high fiber without the gluten; a root structure that farms nutrients from deep in the Earth making minerals available to other plants while beneficial insects buzz around it's bountiful buds. Amaranth growns on every continent and was a staple for Incas, Aztecs, and many Native people from Mexico, Africa, and India.
I know the plant is something special as I watched student gardeners get to know amaranth in garden class over the past few weeks. Kids worked together to harvest branches of the head high plants. We brought the stocks to a big white sheet for shucking. Fifth and sixth graders became mesmorized by the intricate plants from the moment they started investigating seed pods. We found beetles burrowed in the stalk and discovered that those beetles are ground beetles that eat insect pests.
Boys famous for their kalohe (rascal) antics were quiet as library angels as they used their breath to remove the chaffe from the salt grain-sized seeds. After removing the chaffe, we used the shiny black seeds to make an ancient recipe called Alegria. Alegria is a hard candy made sold by street vendors in Mexico and India. It entails the exciting exercise of toasting amaranth seeds until they explode like popcorn, combining the seeds with a toasted seed/nut like sunflower seeds or macadamia nut, and boiling maple syrup. Combing the three results in a delightful candy with a powerful vitimin, mineral, and protien punch. The kids were bubbling in learning that a "candy" can be a healthy pre-surf/basketball/dancing snack.
I could feel the presence of 7,000 years of bountiful gardening as the children responded to amaranth with absolute glee. The alegria put them in the clouds and me in a positive state of self awareness. I never tire of how amazed children are to participate in the cycle of growing/harvesting/cooking/eating. Two girls stalked me during their lunch recess until I had the free hands to sit and write the recipe down.
No wonder: alegria means joy.
To make alegria: (From Amanda Rieux and Mala'ai quoting Patricia Wood's Splendid Grains, pg 77)
1/3 cup agave syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup, or honey
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds (or mac nuts)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups popped Amaranth
To pop amaranth: Heat large wok or saucepan (not cast iron) with low sides over high heat. Once hot, pour in about 1/4 cup (white works best) amaranth seeds and stir constantly until most have popped and the others have turned a few shades of brown. Remove quickly form pan to avoid burning, repeat. This is a great thing to cook outside because the little buggers pop all over the place. Have the amaranth popped before you start the rest.
Lightly grease 8" square cake pan, set aside. Put the syrup or honey in a sauce pan over high heat and bring to soft boil, boil for about 10 minutes or until the syrup is 224' F. Remove from heat - stir in sf seeds and cinnamon, then stir in the popped amaranth just enough to coat. Press into the pan and let cool somewhat, cut into 2" spares.
Eat and enjoy basking in the history
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...