Archive for the ‘Service Learning’ Category


When the Edmonds Community College LEAF Service Learning Program arrived on Friday, Nov. 2nd, comfrey plants were everywhere on the west side of the garden fence! Hiding productive potato beds, and compost piles…time to dig potatoes, and excavate compost!


The chicken coop also needed cleaning, and so to accommodate all the debris, we built more compost bins using pallets.


Buckets of potatoes were dug and the comfrey removed…


and the chicken manure and all the comfrey leaves went into the new compost bins.

We carefully added a Pfeiffer compost starter, a biodynamic preparation that activates the compost.


Then we took on the winter squash bed, weeded it, and sowed it with cover crops. Yet another transformation with lots of squash debris going into the compost!


Great fun finding Northwestern Salamanders, large and small!

A rich and full two hours of learning about the full cycle of soil fertility and the role of organic matter in a sustainable system! Our veggies next year will be nourished by the compost we created.

Thank you LEAF Program students Laurie Ross, Eliel Badon, Yong-U Park, John Pennington, Kyle Dewey, Marie Rhodes, KC Kerker, Grace Coale, Marni Swart, Americorps volunteer Marshall Kramer, Ellen Whitney and coordinator Erin Ryan, with help with Allie Urbanek, Susanne Fest and Maggie Mahle!

Also, thanks to Christyn Johnson, Whidbey Institute chef, who cooked a most delicious lunch from veggies from the garden – beets, carrots, chard, collards, gailon, kale, potatoes and pumpkins.

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Mech Kneidinger, garden apprentice, taught the Waldorf 3rd grass class about soils with a vivid demonstration of soil erosion, showing how water impacts soil when it is bare, and when it is vegetated. The class then went out to sow cover crops that would grow and hold the soil for the winter.

Not only do the cover crops hold the soil, but they also take up nutrients that might be leached in the winter rains. We had harvested the rye seeds earlier in the season when they had ripened, rubbing the grains off…


… and then the chaff was blown off the grains by pouring them into a bucket while we created wind with a tray. We added legumes to the rye mix–fava beans, austrian field peas, vetch and crimson clover–to add nitrogen to the soil. We’ll turn the cover crops over in January and February so they can break down into organic matter than will nourish beautiful veggies next year!

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Cow horns brought Mrs. Boram’s 4th grade class and Mr. Maliakal’s 3rd grade class at the Whidbey Island Waldorf School together on September 27 in the Westgarden.

At Michaelmas last fall, Mrs. Boram’s class had filled cow horns with manure and


buried the horns in the ground so that the cow manure would be enlivened by the vital energies concentrated in the earth. This fall, both classes worked together to unearth the horns. As part of their 2012 Michaelmas celebration, the two classes made a biodynamic preparation called Cow Horn Manure which is used to enhance soil fertility in the garden.


A handful of the transformed manure was added to bucketfuls of water, which was potentized by repeatedly stirring it with a paddle, clockwise and then counterclockwise, all the while bringing lovely intentions of fertility and abundance to the swirling waters.


The students then used brushes and evergreen boughs to sprinkle the water throughout the garden. The garden sparkled afterwards!

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The weeds and the comfrey were encroaching on the garden perimeter and we wanted to find a sustainable solution.


Voila! With the transformative energy and enthusiasm of the LEAF Service Learning Program at Edmonds Community College, and Westgarden volunteers, we built a chicken run! The chickens will keep the outside border of the garden free of weeds, provide chicken manure for the garden, and eggs for us. We’ll also be growing our chicken feed to close the sustainability loop.



After the weeds were cleared out along the fence, struts were set up to support the chicken wire. Chicken wire was installed and a nice entryway set up outside the chicken coop. Netting over the top provides protection from the owls.



Very clever chicken culverts were made so that the garden gates could open over the chicken passageway.


Much thanks to the Johnson family for their laying hens! And to Justin for renovating a chicken tractor.


The chickens were out and exploring their run in no time, coming to visit as soon as the class sat down for their reflection time.

Wow! A super big thanks to LEAF volunteers James Brown, Kyli Rhnalds, Sam LeBrun, Gabriella Golzarian, Antoinette Hamilton,, Kyle Dewey, Ellie Delacruz, Tonja Campbell, Phino Fernandez, Debra Lacy, Jane Pesznecker, Marshall Kramer, Erin Ryan and Professor Thomas Murphy, and Westgarden volunteers Mech Kniedinger, Zoe Hill, Mully Mullally and Allie Urbanek.

A magnificent chicken run in less than two hours!

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Howdy! Okay, even though I am from Nashville, I only use that word when I’m really excited to greet someone… such as the people of South Whidbey!

My name is Mechelle (you can call me Mech or “meesh”), and I’m here as one of the new apprentices for the Good Cheer Garden, the Westgarden at Whidbey Institute, and other projects around the island. I’m living at the Whidbey Institute in what I like to think is a luxurious 7×10 woodland condo, complete with a chic outdoor kitchen and an enormous backyard. You may see me around on a newly loaned yellow mountain bike (thanks loaners!), so don’t be afraid to say “howdy!” I would love to get to know the people of this beautiful community.

Perhaps you’d like to know a little about myself before you risk your reputation with a word like “howdy,” so I’ll give you a little background. I’m primarily a student. Whether I’m learning from the Earth, the critters, other people, or experiences, I think of life as one big experiment with a multitude of lessons we discover in the process. That said, I have gained much of my knowledge from this thing called “school.” I earned a B.A. in Environmental Sociology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and studied French and African Studies along the way. While in school, I became fascinated with the idea of feeding, supporting and enhancing community through growing food, so I worked as an intern at UT Organics, and again after school at a small farm called Broadened Horizons Organic. I’ve been incredibly lucky with my learning experiences so far, and it seems I’ve gotten lucky again! I look forward to speaking with you all and getting started with this unique opportunity.


Mech shares her thoughts on farming, community gardening, and her experiences as an apprentice on the Good Cheer Garden Blog!

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Raking up the storm!


Those winter winds blow down a lot of debris from the firs on the Chinook Land, so we have a lot of spring cleanup. No problem! No job too big or small for the Whidbey Institute Board of Directors, and a great way to experience the fun and value of service learning.


Taking a break from a Saturday planning session, the board swarmed all over the area by Garbanzo, and Mushroom and Heron cabins. They raked up all the debris and spiffed everything up to get ready for the arrival of a new apprentice for the Community Gardening Leadership Training. Plus, learned about land care and volunteer coordination in the process!

A big thank you to Executive Director Jerry Millhon and Board Members Allan Ament, Bruce Herbert, Rick Paine, Gabriel Shirley, Bill Koenig, Matt Wesley, Francis Janes, Mark Yeoell, Britt Conn and Mira Steinbrecher. The paths and gathering areas look beautiful now – much appreciation!

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When the LEAF Service Learning Program of Edmonds Community College comes to the Westgarden, they usually focus on a section of the garden that needs transforming. Well, this winter quarter visit, they transformed the whole garden!

We visited the Good Cheer Food Bank and Garden in the morning to learn about sustainable agriculture and social justice from a food bank and community garden perspective, and then enjoyed a delicious lunch made by Chef Chrystyn that included kale and collards from the Westgarden.


The afternoon service project was all about creating fertile soil using compost. We started with turning over the winter rye cover crops so that they break down and increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. This organic matter nourishes the billions of organisms in the soil food web which cycle nutrients to the plants.


The worms slow down in the winter and don’t eat as much, so we had a couple garbage cans of extra food scraps. The LEAF students dug a trough to bury them in…


laid them in the trough, and backfilled it all under 8 inches of earth. Those food scraps will be composted down in a couple months, and we’ll grow great zucchini there.


The partially composted garden debris in the two outside bins of our 3-bin system was turned over into the middle bin so it could continue composting, and also free up bins for more garden debris.


The cover crops in the 3 sister’s beds from last year were turned over, kale beds were weeded,


the last of the beds were flipped, and then everyone fanned out and cleaned up the comfrey area west of the garden where we’ve been making row compost.

WOW! Can you imagine all this was accomplished in less than 2 hours! The whole garden was transformed and is now ready for spring.

An enormous bow of gratitude to Professor Tom Murphy, Americorp volunteer Erin Ryan, and the hard-working LEAF students: Nicole Allais, Aurash Arvani, David Beckman, Rita Boonprasert, Damien Douglas, Mark Dunnigan, Gema Ebanks, Gabriella Golzarian, Calvin Hansen, Courtney Honey, Jane Hutchinson, Matt Klatt, Anders Kvarnberg, Kate Luebke, Sarah Mortensen, Kim Ohlmann, Michael Stringfellow, Leif Takacs, and Gail Tamura.

Thank you also to volunteers Mully Mullally and Nadya Zawaideh!

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