Friday, April 12, 2019

Proliferation of Spring!

Sign! Sign! Everywhere a sign!

Red Mustards, Purple Asparagus and Daffodils adorn Meg's Garden this early spring!


Now that Spring is here, we need more signs in the garden that inform visitors about who we are and what we are trying to accomplish.  What about this one? (We'll take your suggestions, really!)

Welcome to Meg’s Community Garden, the community hub of the James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center, a sustainable outdoor learning environment designed to engage our senses and our communal need to grow and eat organic and locally grown foods, surround ourselves with the beauty of nature and learn how to live sustainable and healthier lives.  Most of the trees here in our edible forest are alive and will be willing to share their fruits when they are ready.  We are being very mindful of what to plant both in and outside of our community garden.  Many nearby plants surrounding our fruit and nut trees are good companions and should also be respected.  Please help care for our fruit, nut and other trees by carefully observing and showing others how to look at nature.  You are free to admire buds and branches and fruit, but please, be careful how you touch! without permission.  If you want our permission,* If you feel like gardening, then please volunteer or visit during our open hours, every Thursday, from 3 until dusk. 

*Thanks Sung for the suggestion.  It did sound a bit authoritarian.  It's just that, as you know, we've had over a dozen trees stolen and we've seen our share of broken branches and knocked over young trees.   So I've taken out the permission part. 
New Trails and scenes from Meg's Garden Opening Day, April 4, 2019

Opening Day

On Thursday, April 4, 2019 we held our opening day at Meg's Garden and started a new tradition.  Parker and Jack Gambino brought folk songs and there was JBOLC Place Based Garden Tea, Apple Spice Cake, Apple Butter and Sourdough Bread - all home made!

Spreading Permaculture 

We have been trying to negotiate between the administration of our three campus high schools (DeWitt Clinton, Bronx Collaborative and World View), the School Construction Authority and Adam’s European Construction in order to apply a mixture of seeds that include perennial herbs, root crops and clovers* instead of turf grass to remedy and restore the soil in the former construction staging area adjacent to Meg’s Community Garden and Edible Forest.   Adam’s European Construction, who are wrapping up their project on campus, are leaving soil that is heavily compacted and abused by heavy trucks and machinery.  Using permaculture inspired practice, this area can be remedied in a way that requires little to no maintenance, and so, no wasted energy, no toxic chemicals and more beneficial to healthy soil organisms, birds and pollinators.  The benefits of this method cannot be overstated. 
Monarch on Aster, Meg's Garden 2018.
* We have offered the following list of seeds most of which we have already have from last year or have purchased: Rye, Buckwheat, Parsley, Mint, Creeping thyme, Lemon balm, Catnip, Lavender, Sage, Oregano, Chamomile, Chives, Comfrey, Alpine strawberry, Echinacea, White clover, Red clover, Parsnip, Turnip, Horseradish, Oilseed Radish and Daikon Radish.

We feel like we are offering a much more efficient and environmentally sound solution to a persistent problem, however, not without facing push back and a reassertion of the status quo.  Some want to “return the grounds to how they were before the construction.”  At worst, this could mean an all out effort to establish an unnatural lawn through the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  We object to this approach on the grounds that we presently grow an abundance of food on our school campus without the use of any chemicals.  We do not want to see a community food source be tainted or even poisoned by the use of toxic chemicals on the same school grounds. We also believe that if the SCA initiates our protocols for restoring the environment in a more sustainable earth friendly way it will be a benefit other schools throughout the city.  We are willing to extend our edible forest to the west of Meg’s Garden and we will be very thankful if the SCA supports our efforts to remedy and restore the soil there as quickly as possible. SCA will have have our full support if they would like to explore or replicate our method to restore other areas of campus disturbed by a three year construction project.  Gardeners are constructors too; we build places for human beings, where wildlife is lured and welcomed.  


Programming with High School Classes

Presently we are working with DeWitt Clinton High School Science teacher Caitlyn Maceli to supplement PLTW (Project Lead the Way) Environmental Sustainability Curriculum for her students with direct hands on practice and experience in Meg’s Garden.  We’ve outlined our overall goals, desired outcome, methodology and materials as follows:



 for the happiness of Soil, Soul and Society

1. To learn to grow sustainably, efficiently and ethically
2. To nurture sensibility
3. To nourish personal responsibility and communality
4. To be connected to nature and be a steward
5. To understand “pattern” in nature
6. To practice all of the above in the context of maintaining our school campus, outdoor garden/learning spaces and neighboring public areas


Each student will succeed at and gain skills in the following areas:

1. Helping to maintain school gardens
2. Designing and Growing their own garden space by planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting, preserving/cooking in a sustainable way.
3. Sharing with parents, teachers, friends, and community.
4. Taking care of school environment and surrounding neighborhood.
5. Caring for Trees and other plants
6. Building green infrastructure
7. Participating in recycle/zero-waste efforts including those initiated in student cafeteria
8. Beautifying the surroundings (planting flowers, picking up trash, building walkway/trail, signage)
9. Teaching (and learning) by connecting and sharing what and how they’ve learned with younger students from neighboring and local elementary schools 
10. Presenting and tabling at signature events for teachers, friends, classmates, parents and community culminating in Spring Banquet/ Sustainability Expo to be held in May or early June of 2019 - (simultaneous with Unity in the Community?)


Ours project-based curriculum aims to be fun, hands-on, and engaging for all.

We are guided by sustainable permaculture practices that are seasonal, site specific, ecological, resource conscious, ethical, organic and non-toxic.  

We will encourage students to learn from each other and from everything they notice in nature (even a weed has so much to teach!).

We are establishing an outdoor classroom environment in contrast to what students experience indoors and so we will emphasize close observations of nature in nature and direct action through activities that directly support our sustainable and edible landscape.

We will invite guests, teachers, professionals, and experienced community members to share their knowledge and expertise about gardening and permaculture practices.

We will inform students on continued progress on our ongoing garden/site design.

Our assessments will also be holistic and qualitative, focusing on participation, curiosity, initiative, commitment.


We will use a variety of garden and farming tools and work mostly around soil, compost, plants of all kinds.  Additionally, whenever it is possible, we will use what’s available and already out there in the environment (sticks, branches, plants, found materials and so on) and recycled/recyclable/compostable materials.  We aim our project to be completely zero waste.


Next year we hope to expand our offerings to engage other high school classes in the building on a regular basis.  This year we are taking the time to develop curriculum.  However, if you wish to schedule a class visit or discuss how your students can be involved in our programming, please reach out to us. 
Aaron Burns of World View H.S.
Like last year, we continue to work with a number of individual students who comprise the JBOLC Green Team in coordination with the Bronx Transition and College Access Center providing hours for students to work in school during their lunch periods doing cafeteria recycling and after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Trailer Donation 

Adam’s European Construction has done a great job fixing or replacing brick and mortar and making the Castle on the  Parkway look new and fresh again.  Knowing that some of their construction obstructed our school garden, they made a tremendous effort to help us keep our garden programs going.  Adam's Construction created our school's first bioswale at the end of the lower parking lot.  They helped us find and locate boulders to barrier the bioswale, moved logs and donated leftover stones and bricks. They have been true allies during this period of construction helping us with their equipment and after we inquired about the future of an old trailer that bordered Meg’s Garden, they offered it to us. 

We admit, it is an eyesore in this location - the fence used to secure it is hideous. 

We think that after a conversion, the trailer might best function as an organizational headquarters, workspace and storage unit.  We have identified what we feel would be a perfect location away from the street and away from sight.  We can raise the funds and elicit volunteer help for a makeover.  After the trailer is moved we can begin remodeling and painting the outside so that it will fit into the existing landscape.  

Imagine with us the possibilities of a make over!

Progress on The Welcome Table

We are one step closer to building the Welcome Table from the 90 + old oak tree lumber that we’ve been curing on site.

We have a miller!  Robert Rising of City Slab in close-by Yonkers consulted on our pile and can bring over two mills for one day to finish it all.  Some of the timber can be shaped immediately into garden benches, while the best of the lengthier and straighter boards can be further cured and kilned to become the lumber used to create the set piece of our project, the Welcome Table.

Mr. Rising also suggested that the trailer be paneled with oak pieces he can make and that remnants might be used to make smaller craft pieces like cutting boards that might be used as fund-raisers.  We will also use remnants to create our series of garden signs.

Briefly, for now...

Cafeteria Recycling

Our goal for this school year is 6,000 lbs or 3 tons so we are a little less than half way there with only two months of school to go.  With that said, we are already surpassing last year’s goal of 1 ton.   

Cafeteria Recycling Statistics (October 18, 2018 - April 11, 2019)

Total Plastic, Metal, Glass, Cartons, Recovered food diverted from landfill                                                                                                             1414.63 lbs
Total Liquid diverted from landfill (estimated 37lbs per day)       1532      lbs
Total Diversion (MGPC and detained liquids)                                     2946.63 lbs

Patterns of Food Recovery - most of the apples collected from the school cafeteria are dried or made into applesauce.
Total Food Recovered from School Cafeteria (mostly whole apples or pre-sliced apple packets, hummus containers)                                                                                         343.3 lbs
Total Donation to Food Kitchen (Part of the Solution, POTS)             145.64 lbs
Total Food Transformed into dried apple snacks, cakes and applesauce for Community Volunteers, Kitchen Staff, Custodians and Students                                                                                                                                   197.36 lbs

Our goal for this school year is 6,000 lbs or 3 tons so we are a little less than half way there with only two months of school to go.  With that said, we are already surpassing last year’s goal of 1 ton. 

We are happy to announce that we have a new World View High School Zero Waste Pledge Green Team under the direction of teacher Deborah Reich that is now in command of recycling during period 5.  This is a great sign!  Now, for the other two campus schools to step up!  

Green Infrastructure Internship 

In partnership with The New York State Water and Soil Conservation District, we will be offering green infrastructure internships for students from any campus high school.  Interns will learn how to create and maintain green infrastructure as we work in cooperation with The New York City Department of Transportation and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to install a pollinator garden on the meridian adjacent to Meg's Community Garden on the other side of the unused access road.  Green interns will also be incorporating green infrastructure features such as paths and swales on our school garden sites and helping to manage community composting and other environmental projects around campus.  Interns will be provided a stipend and an opportunity to stay on as a JBOLC volunteer.  This spring we are simultaneously developing three sites in and around campus and building a green house. 

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

More on Quasi-Retirement

What Has Taken Over

the joy of camping
or just having the time to watch the rain

(no way I’m having mofongo tonight
but sancocho will do)

the idea of quasi-retirement –
apparently retired, yes, but also qua –
being and being first
working later

teaching can be like this and it was for me most times
though like everyone else these days
I too was forced to the script
became someone else’s teacher
though frankly that goes on

so, an informal educator
can aspire to be a teaching

patches of blue in a grey roving sky
the wind, a parent of trees,
in the stationary clouds beyond these that are racing
a human eye over a resting falcon

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Another Country / Magnificent Transitions Over the Course of One Year

by Ray Pultinas

This past July marks one year of my quasi-retirement after teaching at DeWitt Clinton High School for 25 consecutive years – a quarter of a century - and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve grown not only roots, but stems, fruits and flowers.  And I try to take good care of them too.  I’m learning to be ever more mindful of what plants might need – compost or mulch or moisture or light or less light, if possible, and so much more.  You might say that the plants, the buds, the flowers, and by extension, the bees, the butterflies and turquoise colored dragon flies, the worms, (especially) the mosquitos, even the rabbits (most annoyingly) are using me.  I have become their tool, but I don’t mind.   It gives me great joy to be of use and delightfully coincides with my transition from having been a formal educator to becoming a non-formal educator. 
First graders from PS 4, The Duke Ellington School who visited Meg's Garden in May.
butterfly balm
Becoming an informal educator
We are now in the third growing season at Meg’s Garden and slowly and surely the garden has attracted countless regal pollinators, beautiful monarchs and black swallowtails, golden and purple finches, squirrels, bats, opossum, rabbits (most regrettably)  - to name those we’ve personally witnessed.  But it has also attracted community: Sung Kim, fellow passionist of permaculture and gardening, has helped us increase both diversity and productivity in the garden; Laura Chevnon has donated numerous beloved plants and shares with us her gardening wisdom and skills; former Environmental Affairs Club members and DeWitt Clinton High School graduates Clarissa Reclaimier, Jocelyn Bautista, Yelissa Vasquez, Maribel Vitagliani have been studying gardening while helping to plant, water, mulch, weed, and harvest now for 6 years and are introducing the next generation, their little nieces, nephews and siblings Kylie, Seth and Paul to the garden experience.  There are so many others in our community who are helping me to learn and we are teaching each other.  We witness pedestrians stopping to admire the garden, some venture in to ask questions or sign up and some I know are about to.   We are adding to our contact list of nearly 300 community members, volunteers, supporters, guests, visitors and admirers.

Yelissa and Jocelyn with Daikon Radishes
Yelissa and Seth
This past spring, we witnessed the fulfillment of what first seemed to many, a far-fetched idea: the transition of a former chemistry lab at DeWitt Clinton High School, room 332, into a state of the art hydroponic farm.  The Sun Club Teens For Food Justice Hydroponic Farm is a reality and history was made on March 22 when Sustainability students brought the first two lugs of butter crunch lettuce to the student cafeteria making healthy, fresh, local grown produce available to all students who attend the DeWitt Clinton campus.  Students from Ms. Sun’s three sustainability classes, an ELL class called Human Impact from Bronx Collaborative that I co-taught with Ariel Nadelstern, and Work Study/TOP Program students that I supervised helped construct the systems that will now grow over 25,000 lbs. of leafy green vegetables and 9,000 lbs. of vine crops on the farm per year. The Sun Club Teens for Food Justice Hydroponic Farm is the bold fruition of our partnership with Kathy Soll, CEO and director of Teens For Food Justice.  To have witnessed a new, state of the art hydroponic farm in our nearly century old building is a dream come true.  The farm not only produces fresh produce to serve to students, but distributes its surplus to our site based Good Shepherd Food Pantry, City Harvest and directly engages students with site based, hands-on sustainability, science, nutrition, career and work training.  Many other educational, teaching and learning opportunities and are yet to be realized but have now become possible.  
First delivery to student cafeteria
Harvesting on the hydroponics farm
Inspired by the continued success and expansion of our school and community gardens, the establishment of our edible forest, our successful partnerships with Teens For Food Justice and numerous other community organizations, our being awarded an National Endowment for the Arts Work Grant and, perhaps most especially, our continued willingness and freedom to dream and commit ourselves to “making it better” we incorporated as a non profit named the James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center on March 23, 2018.  Our mission: to strive for inquiry-based solutions at the juncture of food, environmental and social justice.  Our organization utilizes existing and planned school resources, grounds and gardens to develop programs in outdoor environmental education for sustainable living and food preparation/service.  Our goal is to build a healthier community by integrating, educating and serving students and community members, especially low income and marginalized people, in collaboration with numerous partner organizations with common interests.

The James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center will be comprised of two hubs connected by an accessible trail with a series of program spaces that run along the trail between them.  Accessibility is essential to guarantee equal access for all students and community members presently thwarted by steep stairs and narrow automobile ramps in surroundings marked overall by prohibitively dangerous highway intersections and barriers to surrounding green spaces.   Our Community Hub will be the welcoming gateway, a destination for healthy and sustainable living, a place where neighbors can meet and learn with each other about sustainable practices that support the health and future of the earth while sharing good food and community spirit.   The School Hub will be a versatile and intimate conference, classroom, and garden space guided by an ethos of social justice, environmental justice and food justice.  Here will be the Welcome Table to memorialize the celebrated American writer and DeWitt Clinton High School graduate, class of 1942 and to promote dialogue, sharing, responsibility, and unity.

SYEP in action!
This past summer, in collaboration with Teens For Food Justice and the Transition and College Access Center, whose Bronx headquarters is now based at DeWitt Clinton High School, we hosted our first Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and it was a great success.  Fifteen students rotated through three interrelated work programs either working outside in the gardens, inside on the hydroponics farm or within our community doing food justice advocacy.  We also suceeded at establishing our youthmarket in which we sold produce grown right on our campus.   We are expecting to continue the operation of our market this fall.

Could it be that we have found Another Country?

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Gratitude: This Year's Harvest Celebration and the Love of a 90 Year Old Oak

Mark the date! October 27th for the 8th Annual Harvest Celebration on the lawn near Meg's Garden and our newly planted edible forest.  Invitations are on the way!  Start up time will most likely be at 2:00 pm and we'll at least witness the sunset, so stop by and spend as much time as you like.  This year we are especially grateful to one of our 90 + year old oak trees that is providing us with an abundance of timber for future use for various outdoor purposes but especially as the building material for what will become the centerpiece of the James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center, the Welcome Table.  The huge pin oak that split this past summer and was then taken down completely was planted when Calvin Coolidge was president and has served our school marvelously throughout its life.  Of course it should be studied, honored and continue to be revered.   I can't think of a better use for this grand old tree than as building material for the Welcome Table and other features at the community school hub we are creating for gathering community members, students, family, friends, teachers and learners of all ages. 
A gift to the Garden and The James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center.

Our plan is to store the timber (and allow it to cure) at two locations.  A stack will be brought to the swing space on the lower parking lot (site of the future Baldwin Center) and the rest will remain stacked in an out of the way area near Meg's Garden (the community garden) and newly planted edible forest on the Goulden Avenue side of the building.  I am grateful for the assistance and cooperation of our Custodial Engineer Tom Esposito and Adam's European Construction for helping us secure this valuable resource.
Clockwise from upper left: new compost system made from repurposed pallet courtesy of Adam's European; one of many harvests of serrano peppers for Bronx Hot Sauce; cockscomb or brain celosia (in Meg's Garden); Blueberry and Native Plant Bed (recently mulched by beloved oak tree woodchips).
Our DeWitt Clinton High School building is presently being oppressed by an overwhelming amount of scaffolding and tarps but just outside this construction zone the natural potential of our beautiful surrounding campus continues to flourish.  If given the right conditions of sunlight, good soil and caring hands, even in proximity to the worst conditions, a garden will grow.  While school construction is expected to be complete in 2019, the growing and sustainability initiatives at our school are well under way and thriving. 

PLENTITUDE !! : Clockwise from upper left: Ray Pultinas next to the actress Jennie Garth; Principal Orbe; Tools of the Tree Planting Trade; Vitafusion sponsored Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF) donation; FTPF Arborist Rico Montenegro demonstrating proper tree planting before a crowd of students and community member volunteers.
This past spring, we were honored with a grant of 35 fruit trees and 10 blueberry bushes from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF) and supported by the makers of Vitafusion Gummy Vitamins.  The grant enables us to establish an edible forest on the north lawn of our campus. Our application was chosen to kick off the United States leg of a campaign to plant 10,000 fruit trees throughout the world in 2017.  The incredible staff of arborists and experts from the foundation had just finished planting trees in Uganda when they helped us start our own orchard at a ceremony and planting day on June 6.  Celebrity and actress Jennie Garth flew in from Los Angeles to help kick off our event that we dubbed “Plentitude” because our gardens have literally multiplied each year since we started our 5 raised bed Clinton Garden in 2010.  Despite the rain, all the trees were planted and are now being well maintained and nurtured.
About 4 weeks after the planting, a total of 9 fruit trees including apple, cherry, and plum were stolen from the site.  A police report has been filed.  The foundation is sending us replacement trees in November and we have received a private donation of $200 to make our edible forest even more plentiful.
At a ceremony on June 8, the new DeWitt Clinton High School Community Garden (built over the past 2 years from a United Way seed grant) was named Meg’s Garden in honor of the late Megan Charlop whose care and love for the environment and for the health of our Bronx community residents will never be forgotten.  It was Megan’s suggestion that we start a school garden back in 2009 as a class project in my Witt Seminar on Activism elective.  Tragically, Megan suffered a fatal bike accident before getting to see the garden’s first harvest in the spring of 2010.  Remembrances were shared and plans for a Meg’s Garden sign are in development.
Herb pallet at Meg's Garden.

The event took place on Montefiore’s annual Day of Service and volunteers joined us as they have every year to help us in the garden.  In this case it meant fence painting, spreading compost, harvesting chamomile and planting vegetable seedlings and seeds. The success of our new community gardening initiative at this point can also be measured by the number of neighbors who might just stop by to say hello or introduce themselves or the responses over this past summer to my email invitations for volunteering.  Presently we have a contact list of almost 300 community members who have volunteered their labor or support in some way to our garden projects.  But we still need your help!

On left DWHS Parent Coordinator Inés Cariño and Super Parent Volunteer Santia Gonzalez-Cancel
Community volunteers Laura Chenven and Kevin Nipal '12. 
Since being awarded an NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) design grant in 2016, we have been working with Linda Pollak and her team of architects and designers at Marpillero Pollak Architects as well as Jessie Kerr Vanderslice, director of Grow to Learn, Deborah Pannell of Project Mavens and other artists, community leaders and their organizations to begin planning the James Baldwin Center and Trail.  Imagine, as we do, a gathering space for community and students featuring a Welcome Table built in memory and honor of the great American writer and DeWitt Clinton alumnus.  Imagine what is typically done around a table – sharing of food, conversation, stories, performance and informal learning.  Imagine further a campus that is unified in its connectivity and accessibility through a walking trail augmented with installations and exhibits, gardens and edible forests, lookouts and works of art and sculpture.  Each turn of the trail might be met with opportunities for discovery, inquiry, and exploratory learning and all to supplement a rich academic education that we will be offered indoors.  Principal Orbe is continuing Sustainability programming and has expressed support for each of our initiatives.  Our Baldwin Center and Trail Coalition is presently pursuing additional grants and funding. 

The Baldwin Center and Trail Coalition is hopeful that our application is approved for the New York City Department of Transportation's Plaza Program to make the underutilized traffic triangle and abandoned turn off on Goulden Avenue the Gateway for James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center and Trail, Meg's Garden, our new Edible Forest, and our other Sustainability Initiatives on our campus.  This is the potential site for our DeWitt Clinton High School green/youth market.
Finally, this fall we will also witness the opening of our hydroponics farm that will grow enough greens and vine crops indoors to supply the needs of our student cafeteria as well as surplus for our food pantry organized by Good Shepherd and newly conceived youth market.  The indoor farm will be located in room 330, the former Chemistry lab and the last DeWitt Clinton High School classroom on the 3rd floor.  Growing out of a unique partnership with Kathy Soll of Teens For Food Justice, City Council Member Andrew Cohen's Office, Montefiore School Health, New York City Department of Education, and Green Mountain Energy Sun Club the garden will begin operations this coming school term.  At the same time we will begin planning a DeWitt Clinton High School green/youth market, a student led business initiative with support from an Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation Grant and the DeWitt Clinton High School Alumni Association.
The hydroponic farm is now ready for growing systems to be installed by students in Sustainability classes at DeWitt Clinton High School, another space that has been transformed at our school.
I’d like to use this opportunity to thank all of our friends, partners and contributors who have  continued to support and encourage our growing team.  Together we are building a DeWitt Clinton High School for the future.  If you want to be added to our contacts and be invited to this fall’s special happenings including our annual free Harvest/Gratitude Celebration with our award winning Garden to Table Chef Noah Sheetz, and the DWC Chorus and Band as well as be in the know about future volunteer events, please email me at   

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