On Discovering a Bee  

I stood with ten first graders around a massive sunflower. The flower, fallen under the weight of its head in a recent storm, bowed petals-first again the grass. We turned over the flower, and gasps of surprise and delight echoed across the farm. Making their way across the pollen-covered surface were no less that five different insects: two types of bees, two beetles, and one we couldn't identify. We had spent the last fifteen minutes "dissecting" flowers, talking about pollination, and I-spying bees in the flower beds, and this was the perfect ending. Eager faces nudged in closer. Beneath the pollen-dusted insects, we could see sunflower seeds beginning to swell and turn black. 

"I don't like bees, but I like them on the farm!," one first grader declared. 

If I had to choose one topic that brought everything in the school garden together, it would be pollinators. Here is why: 
  • Pollinators help kids see that growing food is not an isolated process - pollinators and plants need each other. They are ecology in motion. 
  • Most pollinators are small. Watching them helps children take a closer look, and they begin to feel appreciation and wonder over fear.
  • Pollinators are everywhere. Inviting native pollinators to your garden is simple, and benefits plants and well as learners.
  • Pollinators are en entry point for talking about diversity. One sign of a healthy, thriving garden is how many different pollinators live there. 
  • Taking action to improve pollinator habitat is a wonderful service project for students. Butterfly gardens and native bee houses benefit your garden, your neighbor's gardens, and the health of the planet. 
  • Pollinators include honey bees. While they are not native to Wisconsin, they remain a captivating learning opportunity. They can also open the door to some of the "big questions" about our food system that students may have heard about, but do not yet fully understand. And, eating honey is fun. 
As an adult, I am inspired by childrens' reactions when they discover a bee. They are excited, observant, and sometimes afraid - but they are always fully tuned in. I hope to bring that kind of fascination and focus into the work that I do, helping them make those discoveries. In this newsletter, you will find a collection of resources for  incorporating pollinators - and pollinator education - into your outdoor classroom space. I hope you find it useful!



Pollinators in the Garden Brief
This WSGI brief offers suggestions on how to build a successful pollinator garden that attracts diverse pollinators. Use the plant guide to attract a diverse collection of Wisconsin pollinator species, or find resources for a pollinator garden of any size!
School Garden Resource Center
This excellent online resource comes from a collaboration between the Whole Kids Foundation and FoodCorps. The guide includes national statistics about school gardens, as well as resources for design, curriculum, and maintenance. Available directly online or as a pdf. 
Beekeeping with Youth
Yes, kids can keep bees! Whether you are interested in hosting a hive, visiting a local apiary, or teaching about bees in the garden, students will be fascinated to discover honeybees up close. This brief gives an overview factors to consider before beginning a beehive in or near a school garden, including gaining permission, safety, and potential partnerships.
Mason Bee Observation Guide
This guide from the Playful Learning blog has a great collection of resources and photos to help you and your students get started studying mason bees. Includes free printables and life cycle chart. We also love this simple guide to building a mason bee house with kids!
Indoor Gardens Brief
If you missed our Indoor Gardening newsletter, check out this brief all about getting started with indoor garden projects. Includes info about small scale hydroponics in the classroom. This is a great starting point for winter gardening resources, ideas, and inspiration! 
Creating a Butterfly Garden
This publication describes how to plant a butterfly garden in any yard or field, including a plants list. This is one of several fact sheets available from the Xerces Society, which provides resources for pollinator conservation. We also loved their Pollinator Plants of the Midwest guide!
These three beautiful hand-drawn posters from The Garden Diaries blog show a diagram of bee-friendly plants, a pollinator garden map, and directions for locating a mason bee house in your garden. You can also purchase a poster-size print of the "Plant these for Bees" poster on Etsy.
WSGI's Pollinator Resources Webpage 
WSGI has recently added a new section to our collection of school garden resources, all about pollinators in the school garden! This page includes lessons and hands-on activities for students, as well as resources for educators interested in starting a pollinator garden or beekeeping program. As always, send us your additions - we are excited to see this resource page grow!

Visit WSGI's Pollinator Page

Events ... visit our Events page for more

Growing Minds Course for Educators July 25-29, 2016 - Madison, WI

This 5-day, 20-hour course is designed for K-12 teachers and community educators who are interested in building skills in youth garden education, development, and management. This course will emphasize an inquiry-based, hands-on approach to garden-based learning. Topics include garden design, funding, outdoor kitchens and garden-based nutrition, program evaluation, earth art, and more. Course instruction takes place outdoors in the award-winning Troy Kids' Garden. Graduate credit is available.


Learn more and register


Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Register your garden to B.E.E. counted!

"Pollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we take each day, and yet pollinators are at a critical point in their own survival." The Million Pollinator Challenge is a campaign to register a million public and private gardens and landscapes to support pollinators. Register your garden, and join the world-wide map of pollinator-friendly sites! Any size garden can join!  


School Gardens Film Screening
February 18, 5-8 pm - Sheboygan, WI

School Gardens will be featured in the 3rd Annual Good Food Film Screening, sponsored by Nourish program. In addition to school garden short films, the event will also include a reception and panel discussion with local school garden experts! Location: John Michael Kohler Arts Center.  


Wisconsin Garden Expo
February 12-14, 2016 - Madison, WI

Wisconsin Public Television's Garden Expo is a "midwinter oasis" for gardeners (and gardeners-to-be). This three-day events attracts more than 20,000 people from across the Midwest to share ideas and gain inspiration. Includes: educational seminars and demonstrations, gardening advice from UW-Extension Horticulture experts, opportunities to share ideas with garden-related businesses and non-profits, and more. All proceeds support Wisconsin Public Television.

More information and tickets


The Gardens Summit - Dane County
February 20, 2016 - Madison, WI

This event is the annual gathering for community gardens in Dane County. We wanted to share it for Dane County area schools, as the summit includes a youth education track, as well as sessions specifically designed for youth ages 6-12!

More information and registration


Save the Date: Farm to Cafeteria Conference Coming to Wisconsin
June 2-4, 2016 - Madison, WI

Save the date for the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, coming to Wisconsin in June 2016! The theme Moving Forward Together lifts up new and innovative partnerships to continue to build momentum and ensure long-term sustainability in the Farm to School movement.


Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Garden Joke of the Month

What do you call a bee that lives in America? Click here for answer.


Success Story: The Production Farm

Farming, Film Production, and Foster Care

What do foster care, film production, and farming have in common? Ask Carolyn and Wyatt Kuether. The couple, both Wisconsin natives, are busy piloting The Production Farm, a Green Bay-based program that involves teen in the foster care system in local gardening projects, and then gives them the tools and skills to create a film about the experience. The Kuethers, who have spent the past ten years producing films and television shows in New York City, come with a wealth of experience to share, and a healthy dose of passion for teaching teens new skills.
This year – the program’s first – The Production Farm’s ten students will design, construct, and plant a rooftop garden in downtown Green Bay. By the end of the semester, they will also create a reality television-style film that documents what they learned.  Episodes will range from the nuts and bolts of urban garden design to questions that arise along the way, such as: “How can you use the plants you grow?” and “Does music affect plants?”
The Kuethers want to give kids the opportunity to take leadership and make decisions. Although the adults will designate each year’s garden project – which is highly dependent on community partners – students work collaboratively to decide what style of film they will produce, and how the content will be presented. Individual students are assigned responsibilities within the film-making process. Sometimes, these responsibilities help student step out of their comfort zones.
“Earlier this year we helped host a youth film festival,” Carolyn recalled, “and one girl was put in charge of sound, including conducting interviews. She was very nervous at first, but by the end of the day, she was asking everybody questions and getting them to talk. Later, her foster mom asked me, ‘How did you get her to do that? Talking to strangers is her biggest fear.’ “
“It’s neat to see what happens when you say, ‘Here, take this – you’re in charge,’ Carolyn reflected. “It empowers them, and they don’t realize they are learning.”  
Teens who participate in the program continue to attend their home schools, and participate in Production Farm activities two evenings per week, plus a monthly Saturday field trip or movie day.  The Production Farm works with several organizations that place foster students in enrichment programs such as theirs.
After its pilot year, The Production Farm hopes to expand to include a larger, more rural farmstead that sits directly between Green Bay, Sheboygan, and the Fox Cities.  “That circle reaches twenty percent of foster teens in the state of Wisconsin,” Carolyn said. “And for those that aren’t able to travel, we will continue to maintain the rooftop site in Green Bay.”
On their dream farm, the Kuethers will utilize the land to create a large garden and greenhouse for future student projects. The barn will become a film production studio.  The Kuethers, currently in the application process to become foster parents themselves, will also be able to welcome up to ten teens to live on site in the large farmhouse.  A smaller guesthouse will become a transitional home for up to six 18-25 year olds.  “We want to teach them that life is more than just biology,” Carolyn said,  “—your family can become where you live.”
The Production Farm was started as a grassroots movement – relying primarily on donations of money and supplies from like-minded people and businesses. The program continues to seek donations – and this summer, will be taking on a fleet of volunteers – as they work to grow their program and give ever more teens the opportunity to produce a garden, a movie, and a sense of community. 

Learn more about The Production Farm

Read other school garden success storied collected by WSGI

Top photo: Hydroponics roots are easily visible for viewing in the Grow Academy's hydropoinc system. Left: Grow Academy students assemble lettuce wraps from home-grown hydroponic produce. Right: Old bunk beds provide the structure for a passive hydroponics grow bed, with a another in progress. 

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Every garden is ripe with stories.  Maybe it is one about the day the first shovel-full of soil was turned over and the garden was underway.  Or about that time a brave rabbit dared to sample lettuce amidst a class of kindergartners partaking in a garden lesson.  Each story has the potential to connect others with your garden program. This brief offers tips for collecting and sharing the garden stories that make your garden program so special.  

For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

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