Getting back to Urban Roots

Reno nonprofit pivots from farm tours, schools to at-home gardening kits

PHOTO/URBAN ROOTS: The Reno non-profit Urban Roots uses gardens as a way of teaching kids about nutrition and many other subjects. Information about several other local gardening programs and classes is listed at the end of this story.

What’s more fun for a kids than getting their hands dirty while growing something yummy for their family to eat?  Stay-at-home garden kits that also teach children lessons in science, math and healthy eating habits.

Urban Roots, a Reno non-profit, morphed its mission from in-person tours and classes to developing garden kits for children and adults so that they can raise their own herbs and vegetables at home, even if they only have a windowsill or small yard for a garden.

When the in-person farm tours and camps had to be cancelled a year ago, Urban Roots adapted its hands-on lessons and now offers the kits, virtual farm tours, Zoom lessons and curriculum to students learning at home. 

A family affair

“We pivoted our traditional programs to be more family focused. This expansion helps the entire family, including a 2-year-old sister and even grandma,” said Fayth Ross, the group’s executive director.

Anyone of any age can raise some parsley or kale for the dinner table.  Each $40 kit includes seeds, soil, a miniature greenhouse, spray bottle, gloves, labels and most important – instructions.  Also included are learning activities for the whole family.

 Kits can be ordered from the Urban Roots website, and can be shipped anywhere.  That way, a grandmother can send her grandchild a kit, or a one can be donated to a school, child care center or community group.  A new spring kit will be available in April.

During the pandemic, Urban Roots provided 572 Camp-in-a-Box kits to children, about 70 percent of which were provided by scholarship donations; 2,134 activity kits; and 1,959 virtual lessons.  Two thousand windowsill kits were provided free to families living in motels or small apartments in partnership with Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. 

PHOTO/URBAN ROOTS: Winter Indoor gardening Kit No.2.

Benefits beyond vegetables

Gardening can promote learning in math, science and writing, and can foster nutritious eating habits and appreciation of the environment.  Studies cited in an article by Kristine Hahn of the Michigan State University Extension showed that “third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students who participated in school garden activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to the same grade level students who did not.”  Another study concluded that “garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes and behavior.”

Rachel Miller, in her 11th year of teaching third and fourth grades at Caughlin Ranch Elementary School in Reno, knows first-hand how gardens can help teachers reach students and families. “Getting kids outside and into hands-on activities is one of the biggest things that helps kids learn,” she said.

A few years ago, Urban Roots helped to establish four large garden beds at Caughlin Ranch Elementary and coached teachers to use them as learning tools. 

The non-profit has done a great job on aligning their curriculum to grade-level standards, Miller said.  She serves on the Urban Roots board of directors and studied STEM and outdoor education for her master’s degree in elementary education. 

Lessons from the ground up

Some of the lessons learned in the school gardens include the life cycle of a seed, how the season affects planting and even measuring the heights of plants. One example in the third-grade science curriculum is studying inherited traits versus variations caused by environment, lessons enhanced by studying plants growing in the school gardens.    

“We just did a unit on weather and climate,” Miller said. “We have a little weather tool in the garden that measures wind speed.”    Other activities include scientific writing where the students analyze data from the garden and also creative writing to describe what it would be like to be a seed bursting through the soil.

PHOTO/URBAN ROOTS: A kid and a cabbage.

Students bring home the ideas and knowledge they gain in school, including recipe cards.  Families can shop together, cook together and take photos which can be shared on the classroom blog.

 “The sense of community for the school and families is magical,” Miller said.  “Families come in the summer and sign up for watering and harvesting for a week at a time.”

Growing the program

Along with the drastic changes forced by the pandemic upon Urban Roots programs, the board of directors also launched an interim strategic planning process in late 2020, assuming their traditional programs couldn’t continue in 2021. 

“We want to deepen our roots,” Ross said.  “Not necessarily to serve more people, but to provide in-depth seed-to-table education to learners of all ages.” 

The plan includes the addition of a teaching kitchen and restrooms at the teaching farm, a parcel provided to Urban Roots as an in-kind donation from Renown Health.

The board of Urban Roots also took advantage of the pandemic downturn to repackage and do diversity and equity training. “We want to be more inclusive,” Ross said.  “Our plans are to provide programming that address equality, equity, and justice.”

One little garden at a time.

Spring has sprung: More gardening programs in Nevada

The Bartley Ranch Series

The series by Washoe County Regional Parks and Open Space, Washoe County and University of Nevada, Reno Extension is online via Zoom for anyone who wants to garden – those with big yards, small yards, or just patio or balcony space. The free classes run 6-8 p.m., every Tuesday through March 30. The topics cover:

March 23: Native Plants in the Landscape — growing conditions, care and maintenance. Includes photos of a wide variety of well-suited native plants

March 30: Successful Vegetable Gardening — cultivation of produce from raised garden beds in our high-desert climate, including how to amend soil, crop rotation strategies to increase yields, and companion planting to discourage pests

For more information on the series or for general horticultural inquiries, contact Extension at 775-784-4848 or visit www.growyourownnevada.com/  and select Home Horticulture Programs.

River School Farm, 7777 White Fir St.

Hour-long farm tours highlight organic gardening in the high desert and sustainable landscape design. The standard tour covers year-round vegetable gardening, composting, greywater, raising bees, poultry, goats, building with natural materials, and making recycled artworks. Tours are offered on the first Friday of every month at 3 p.m.  Admission is $10 per adult, free for children.  Reservations are required; RSVP by email to info@riverschoolfarm.org or call 747-2222.

Grow Your Own, Nevada!

The University of Nevada, Reno Extension is offering “Grow Your Own, Nevada!” classes in spring to help Nevadans interested in growing healthy foods with a “back-to-the-basics” guide. Classes will be offered Tuesdays and Thursdays in April, from 6-8 p.m via Zoom.  Register online at http://www.growyourownnevada.com. For details or questions contact Chad Morris at chadmorris@unr.edu or by phone, 775-336-0249.

April 6: Starting Plants from Seed

April 8: Growing Berries 101

April 13: Gardening in Northern Nevada Soils

April 15: Nutrients and Fertilizers

April 20: The Art and Science of Hot Composting

April 22: Lower Risk Pesticide Products and Practices

April 27: Cover Crops for Backyard Gardens

April 29: Saving Seeds from your Garden

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