garden

Pure Harvest Garden – An Organic Garden at P.S. 122Q

By Richard Yue

Pure Harvest Garden

Pure Harvest Garden

Did you know that the vast majority of seeds and produce that we purchase have been genetically modified? Although genetically engineered foods are generally regarded as safe, there are potential risks and side effects (e.g., allergic reaction). Under the leadership of the math teacher, Mr. Vasilios Biniaris, a few members of the eighth grade graduating class of 2012 at P.S. 122 in Astoria, Queens believe many healthy food options are available and that alternatives to genetically modified food exists. These students, who are passionate in making a difference to their school, community and the world, came up with the idea of utilizing organic gardening processes to educate  people about organic farming and the implications of genetically modified foods. The students hope to share some of their own harvest, grown at home, as well as the seeds which they collect and store.

Before the first seed could be planted in the organic garden named the Pure Harvest Garden, the students conducted research about genetically modified food, came up with the design for the garden, and presented the project to their principal to get the support needed for the construction of the garden on the school property.

Since the gardening club was created in 2011 – 2012,  students have planted several hundred different vegetable plants and herbs; the teacher and students have mulched over 60 trees on the school property, the surrounding neighborhood area and in Astoria Park; and planted over 300 flower bearing plants in the tree beds on the streets in their neighborhood.  Currently, the students are planting their second harvest, designing a trellis to hide a trash bin, and donating many of their vegetable bearing plants as part of the advocacy work which they are committed to.

Pure Harvest Garden

Pure Harvest Garden

The level of enthusiasm in the school and the broader community is growing. The numbers of partners they collaborate with have increased and the nature of their work continues to improve. So far, they have worked with GrowNYC, TreesNY, The Brooklyn Grange, and Solar One. Each of these organizations brings an unique perspective to the project and they affect the club’s perspectives as well. One of their partners, the Brooklyn Grange, a one-acre organic urban roof top farm in Queens, has been very supportive to the school. The students had the opportunity to visit the green roof farm setting last year to learn about organic farming, food and the environment. This year, two classes have already visited the Brooklyn Grange and another trip is being planned. The staff of Brooklyn Grange also visits their classrooms (indoor and outdoor) once a week to help them plan their garden and educate the students about sustainable living/farming practices.

Mr. Biniaris anticipates that bigger and better projects await them. The number of students participating in the gardening club has increased. The gardening club has begun to change the culture of the school. Gardening/farming is becoming a “hot topic” within their classroom walls and many classes are contributing. The efforts started by the core group of gardeners in 2011 – 2012 have contributed significantly to this cultural shift. The construction of garden beds alone will ensure that future generations of kids will have access to an experiential learning opportunity that can be integrated with what they learn in the classroom.

For more information about the Pure Harvest Garden, check out their blog at www.122-pure-harvest.blogspot.com.

About the Author: Richard Yue is an Environmental Engineer in the Region’s Clean Air and Sustainability Division. Mr. Yue has been with the EPA for over 22 years and is a graduate of Polytechnic University of New York. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated with the change of seasons. I marvel at how the bare branches of seemingly lifeless trees and bushes come to life overnight. It’s part of the beauty of nature that never ceases to amaze me.


Just recently I was looking at my garden’s revival. While the garden itself will definitely need some attention in the coming weeks, there is still a natural beauty even in its current status. That’s how I focused on the tree that my father, youngest daughter and I planted on Earth Day six years ago. The ornamental pear tree that was barely four feet high has grown to more than fifteen feet tall. It stands tall, healthy, and proud in my garden.

I believe that tree-planting is a great way to instill in children the value of protecting our environment. The process of selecting the tree, preparing the soil, planting the tree, watering it regularly and watching it grow and thrive is a unique experience that benefits all involved. Furthermore, as the tree begins to grow, it also provides shade and improves air quality. Basically, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Even today, as I look at my tree I relive those memories. I still have the vivid images in my mind of the intergenerational experience of seeing my father, my youngest daughter and I working in the garden. I look at my garden and see many of the flowering plants that he helped me plant. He has always loved gardening. Even as he no longer has the agility to do some gardening in the same manner he did many years ago, he still enjoys it. Together, we still can share the experience.

Are you planning to do some gardening around your home this weekend? I’m including some tips that may help you keep your garden waste-free.  Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Go Green this Spring!

By: Kelly Siegel

Although it still feels like winter in parts of the Midwest, spring is officially here!  As we gear up for the start of spring and plan spring activities it is important to remember to keep these activities green.  Here are some ideas to make the most of the season:

  1. Get your hands dirty and plant a vegetable garden.  It takes some work and patience now, but when you are eating your home grown tomatoes this summer, it will all be worth it.
  2. Get outside.  Go for long walks, bike rides, or runs and explore your neighborhood you have missed over winter.
  3. Many of us associate spring with spring cleaning.  Go through those old boxes and your closet and donate, recycle, or reuse anything you don’t need any more. You never know what you might find!
  4. On the topic of spring cleaning, use green cleaning supplies.  There are even ways to make your own.  It is very simple and not only better for the environment, but your wallet as well. 
  5. Use reusable water bottles – You can get some with cool designs and not waste plastic water bottles. 

Do you have other tips to go green this spring?  Please share.

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Beating the Heat with a Pole Bean Teepee

By Carol Wilcox

At The Butterfly Garden, an outdoor nature preschool in Cedar Park, Texas, embracing the weather is a daily event.  Rain or shine, our school is in session, and we are outside.  As the summer months approach, we experience more shine than rain, and the Texas sun creates an environment that can be downright hot and steamy.  Seeking respite in the shade helps us to get through the hottest of those hot days.  Happily, we discovered a wonderful gardening project in which our students, ages 3 – 6, can create their own canopy of shade:  a Pole Bean Teepee

To create our pole bean teepee, we staked four 6-foot bamboo poles into the ground in a 4 foot diameter circle.  The bamboo poles were spaced evenly around the circle and driven into the ground 6 inches deep.  The poles were pulled together at the top and secured with twine.  We then wrapped twine around the cluster of poles, leaving one section open for a door.  The children built mounds of soil about 3 inches tall at the base of each bamboo pole.  They planted three pole bean seeds in each mound and watered them thoroughly.  They then watched eagerly for their seeds to sprout which began to happen within about 10 days.

As the bean vines grew, we tended them daily, trained them up the bamboo poles, and watered them deeply each week.  The vines climbed the bamboo rods until they formed a lovely green teepee.  The children were delighted when the green beans began to grow all over the vines, and harvesting them to share with their families gave them great pride.  We had planted both green beans and Chinese red noodle beans, so discovering that “green” beans are not always green added to the adventure!

Earlier in the school year, we had planted a pear tree and a peach tree, and the children talked about how once these got larger, they would provide shade like the big oak trees on the property.  In the meantime, the pole bean teepee provided a child-size shady hideout in an otherwise sun-drenched garden.  And it was a project they had tended and nurtured with their own small hands.

Carol Wilcox and Janine Carpenter are co-owners of The Butterfly Garden, an outdoor nature preschool and forest kindergarten in Cedar Park, Texas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Blood, Sweat and Dirty Fingernails

Most middle school students don’t usually spend their time growing their own food.  Green Cove Spring Middle School’s 7th and 8th graders are challenging that perception: they started the BSDF Garden, otherwise known as the Blood, Sweat, and Dirty Fingernails Garden.

The inspiration to grow an edible school garden started with the kids’ desire to learn firsthand about where food comes from and to literally enjoy the fruits – and veggies – of their labor.  At Green Cove Spring middle school, gardening has become a way to encourage students to work together, form a community, and learn.

The 7th and 8th graders began collecting a variety of vegetable seedlings and decided to reuse clean paint buckets as the planters.   By getting involved in gardening at school and creating garden classrooms, they were provided with real experiences on how food grows, where it comes from and how important gardens are for the environment.  For many of the students, it was an experience they will never forget because it introduced them to gardening and cultivating food. It may have been messy but they are already noticing results.   In fact, they have a tomato plant that has grown quickly and is producing several tomatoes already.  Some of the students have really taken an interest in planting and caring for the garden that they are taking some of the stronger plants home to care for after school lets out.

Despite not knowing how to start, these students have been pretty successful.  Can’t wait to find out what the students at Green Cove Spring Middle School come up with next!

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship  with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She recently moved to Washington, DC to work at EPA permanently.  She received her dual graduate degree from DePaul University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Girls Scouts Strike Again

Girl Scouts

The Girl Scout Cadette Troop# 10717 from Florida is at it again.  They are not only talking the green talk, but walking the green walk.

After educating themselves on the possibilities of energy from waste during their ‘Breathe Journey’ stage–a step that they took to connect and take action to earn three leadership awards and to engage in improving the world’s air quality, they are connecting to the outdoors through tree planting.

Recently, the troop organized a planting event to give back to their community in Coral Springs.  Girl Scouts of all ages participated in activities to become Junior Forest Rangers and to earn their legacy naturalist badges.  Over 130 participants took part in a tour of the Coral Springs Community Garden, learned to identify at least 5 different types of trees, and planted a tree –which will be tended to by the girl that planted it for a month.

Why tree planting?

The troop recently uncovered that most kids these days spend close to 7 hours a day connected to electronics and are no longer in tune with nature.  They are wired and tuned into portable electronic devices instead of nature and the environment around them.  The Girl Scouts don’t want to forget everything nature has to offer, and so with a little sweat, planted over 130 trees!

Great job for the next generation of young environmental stewards!

What about you?  Have you unplugged from the electronic highway lately and taken part in some kind of act of environmental stewardship?  Tell us about it!

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree at DePaul University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Garden with your Elders!

By Leon Latino

One of my oldest gardening memories is picking Japanese peapods for my grandfather, a 2nd generation Italian-American who moved the family from Worcester, MA to rural East Brookfield, where he had room to plant massive gardens. Though I did not really enjoy picking peas or watering cucumbers at the time, I now find gardening to be one of my favorite outdoor activities.

As part of the Environmental Careers Program at EPA, I was encouraged to join an “action learning team” along with other new employees. Building on our common interests in gardening, food security, and community-building, we decided to document examples of elder-accessible community gardens, gardening plots thoughtfully designed with elders in mind.  Most have raised beds that bring the gardening surface closer to waist height, to allow for easy use. These gardens represent a great opportunity to involve elders in community-building activities, while also providing low-impact exercise and improved access to fresh food.

My team looked for examples of elder-accessible gardens on former Brownfield sites. Can you imagine a blighted or underused parcel of urban land being redeveloped as a garden? How about a garden where elders can enjoy time outdoors in the shade while imparting gardening knowledge and cultural knowledge on younger generations? It is quite a transformative idea!

EPA’s “Urban Agriculture & Local, Sustainable Food Systems” website provides information that empowers both urban and rural gardeners to properly assess and mitigate potential contaminants in their soils. Their mantra is “test your soil first,” especially if you do not know the history of your gardening site.

The Brownfields “Urban Ag” website features my team’s new publication on elder-accessible gardens.
Here’s an example from Philadelphia, where gardens have become a place of cultural exchange for a diverse group of elder immigrants.

Do you know of other examples where gardens are “growing community” or revitalizing under-used sites? Share your stories below!

About the author: Leon Latino has been with EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management since 2009. He and his wife have modified their pavement-heavy urban environment with raised-bed and container gardens, plus a rain garden and rain barrels.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Green Thumb of My Own

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
Some links exit EPA or have Spanish content. Exit EPA Disclaimer

Some people are born with a green thumb, some aren’t. At least that’s what I heard when growing up. My earliest memories as a child are from my maternal grandparent’s house in the town of San Sebastián. In this hilly town located in the northwestern area of Puerto Rico my Corsican-Italian ancestors settled in the 1800’s to grow coffee. Being green came as a second nature to me, as I grew watching my grandmother Carmen taking care of her beautiful orchids and roses and my grandfather Víctor, a farmer, growing sugarcane, plantains, oranges, and coffee.

Part of my job at EPA is devoted to attending public outreach activities where people ask not only about environmental topics but also about plants, composting and greenscaping. Besides providing them the brochures, I enjoy answering their questions and giving them advice on how to plant and the proper care certain plants and trees need. Sometimes, when asked about orchid care, I give my grandmother’s special recipe-milk and water. But I was not prepared for some questions of my own, when I decided to grow organic eggplants. With rising food costs I was looking for a way to grow a garden in our backyard. I already have navel oranges, therefore I thought this was going to be an easy task.

On a Sunday afternoon in late March I planted my eggplant seeds. A week had passed a nothing was growing. The next Saturday, I went to my grandparents’ home for a visit. After the usual exchange of happenings in the family, I told my grandfather about my eggplants. “Sun” he advised. The next day I moved my planter box from under the acerola tree to a sunnier spot. The next Friday, my grandfather passed away at age 90. This morning, before leaving for work I went to my backyard to hang some clothing on the clothesline. As I was enjoying the beauty of my heliconias and orchids I realized that my thriving eggplants and oranges have turned into little reminders of not only my green thumb, but of him.

Talento propio para cultivar

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

Hay personas que nacen con una excelente “mano” o talento para cultivar plantas, otras no. Bajo esa premisa crecí yo. Las memorias más tempranas de mi niñez se remontan a la casa de mis abuelos maternos en el pueblo de San Sebastián en dónde abundaban las plantas y el verdor. Fue en este pueblo montañoso del interior norteño en el que se establecieron mis antepasados corsos-italianos para sembrar y cultivar café en el siglo 19. El amor por la naturaleza es parte de mi personalidad ya que crecí jugando entre las rosas y las orquídeas de mi abuela Carmen y los plátanos, caña de azúcar, café y cítricos que mi abuelo Víctor, un agricultor, cultivaba con tanto esmero.

Parte de mi trabajo en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos está dedicado a interactuar con las personas en actividades públicas y contestar preguntas sobre sus preocupaciones ambientales, cómo hacer composta o utilizar técnicas apropiadas para hacer aún más verde su jardín, entre otras. Además de proveer literatura escrita disfruto mucho de conversar y aconsejarles sobre el cuidado apropiado de ciertas plantas y árboles. A veces cuando alguien me pregunta el por qué sus orquídeas no florecen les doy la receta especial de mi abuela–vertirles la leche que queda en el recipiente de la leche mezclada con un poco de agua. Sin embargo, no estaba preparada para un evento inesperado cuando sembré berenjenas orgánicas. El alto costo de la comida me llevó a decidirme a comenzar un proyecto de jardín casero en nuestro patio. Como ya teníamos cítricos, pensé que esta tarea sería una sencilla.

Una tarde de domingo el pasado mes de marzo planté mis semillas de berenjena. Había pasado una semana y nada crecía. Me preocupé ya que casi todo lo que siembro crece. El próximo sábado fui a visitar a mis abuelos. Luego del intercambio habitual de aconteceres familiares, le conté a mi abuelo de mi aventura con el huerto casero y las berenjenas que no crecían. “Sol” me aconsejó. Al día siguiente las cambié de abajo del árbol de acerolas a un lugar un poco más soleado. El viernes de esa semana mi abuelo falleció a la edad de 90 años. Esta mañana antes de irme a trabajar fui al patio a poner la ropa en el cordel de secar la ropa. Mientras contemplaba la belleza de mis heliconias y orquídeas pensé que mi pequeño huerto casero se había convertido en un recordatorio no sólo de mi habilidad para cultivar, sino también de mi abuelo Víctor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.