December 2010 Archives

Winter gardening--indoors!

Sharon Siehl
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While December is still a fine time in Houston to be planting cool weather crops outside like peas, lettuces, and carrots, you can also stay inside with some fun activities for kids of any age, by growing edibles and flowers inside!

One tradition I've had in my home since childhood, is planting paperwhites indoors.  Paperwhites are in the narcissus family--think of a miniature white daffodil.  They bring some lovely color into your living room, and an intoxicating smell when they bloom.

You can find paperwhite bulbs at the gardening store.  Here is how you "plant" paperwhites indoors:

  1.  Find a container with a wide base, such as a broad vase, preferably with some walls to help hold up the stems as they grow.  A large shallow bowl can work as well.
  2. Cover the bottom of the vase or bowl with old shells, river rocks, glass pebbles, or other small stones.  
  3. Place the bulbs on top of the stones, with the root side sitting securely among the rocks.
  4. Add more rocks around the bulbs to anchor them more firmly. 
  5. Add water to the dish just until the bottom of the bulbs are touching the water.  Don't cover the bulb entirely with water.
  6. Place in a sunny spot in your house. 
  7. First, you will see long white roots growing around the rocks. Then, leaves should start peeking out in a few days.  The paperwhites will bloom in 2-3 weeks after planting. 
  8. Keep refilling water so the bottom of the bulb is always touching the water.   

It's also a great time to get out of the chilly air and start thinking about the warm spring days that are still a bit far away.  Now's the time to start tomato, pepper, eggplant, and herb transplants indoors. 

  1.  Find your preferred varieties online or in a seed catalog.  Great places to look are Seeds of Change, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes.
  2. You can grow seeds in almost anything--even an old shoe!  Containers that work well are old yogurt cups, used plastic cups, saved or new 4" transplant pots, even an old ice cube tray.  
  3. Use a pencil or nail to poke a small drainage hole in each container.
  4. If you are using reused containers, disinfect them with in water with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Get an adult to help with this step!  Then, thoroughly rinse each container with water (maybe not the old shoe, though...)
  5. Fill each container to the top with some organic potting soil.  You can find this at any major hardware store.  Or, combine compost or garden soil with some vermiculite or pearlite (they help hold water in the potting soil.)
  6. Then, plant 2-3 seeds in each container.  Make sure to label clearly the variety and kind of plant using masking tape and permanent marker on each container. 
  7. Place the containers in a sunny window.  If you have some grow lights or low fluorescent lights, place the containers a few inches underneath.
  8. Keep the soil moist by using a spray bottle to mist the soil or a small watering can.  You may want to place a tray underneath the containers to catch any water that runs out.  Check the soil before watering by touching it with your finger to determine if it is dry or wet. 
  9. If, in a few weeks, your plants have outgrown their container, find a larger yogurt cup or 1-gallon used pot, and replant the plant there until you are ready to plant it in the ground.
  10. In Houston, you should be able to plant your transplants outside in the garden (in a large pot or garden) in mid- to late February, depending on how close to downtown you live.  Think of all those juicy tomatoes! 
Enjoy bringing little seeds to life during these short chilly days.  Happy Holidays from the Recipe Gardens! 

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Gracie Cavnar
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     Yesterday President Obama signed into law the new Child Nutrition Bill.  Named the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, the $4.5 billion law will give powerful new tools to those of us in the field that are focused on reducing Childhood Obesity.  While it isn't a silver bullet, I am ecstatic about the passage of this law, which will:
•    Give USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the "a la carte" lunch lines, and school stores.
•    Increase the reimbursement rate for school lunches that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches. This is an historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in over 30 years.
•    Help communities establish local farm to school networks, create school gardens, and ensures that more local foods are used in the school setting.
•    Improve nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs.
•    Expand access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.
•    Sets basic standards for school wellness policies including goals for nutrition promotion and education and physical activity, while still permitting local flexibility to tailor the policies to their particular needs.
•    Promote nutrition and wellness in child care settings through the federally-subsidized Child and Adult Care Food Program.
•    Expand support for breastfeeding through the WIC program.

     We still have our work cut out for us.  For instance, I am troubled that a school district as large and influential as Houston Independent School District has neglected to include health awareness in its strategic vision.  What that means is that even with new ammunition, grassroots advocates will have to pay close attention and fight for meaningful programs that not only meet the federal guidelines, but that will have a true impact on the long term health of our kids. 
     It will still be up to you and me to make sure that our districts go beyond paying lip service to the letter of the law. Our schools need to incorporate broad-based, repetitive nutrition education that has lasting lifestyle impact and we need to launch that education the moment a child enters school.   We must focus on establishing a culture of through to every student.  We need Recipe for Success!

Read further about the bill and its effects.

See how a typical week's school menu can change
View image

New Congress Clears 'Historic' Revamp Of School Lunch Program To Counter Child Obesity

Gracie Cavnar
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Dec 02,2010 - WASHINGTON -- Congress late Thursday gave final approval to major changes in the school lunch program, including an expansion of an effort led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to multiply links between local farms and school lunch counters. The bill, which President Obama supports and is expected to sign into law, is the largest single investment ever made in child nutrition programs.

The bill will also authorize an organics pilot program, also advanced by Leahy, under which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer competitive grants for schools to boost their offerings of organic foods and to scale up the nutritional value of the foods provided to schoolchildren under the school lunch program. Leahy, long a leader on hunger and child nutrition issues and the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called the bill "an historic investment in our children's health," noting that it also delivers on a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to counter child obesity.

The current charter for federal support for child nutrition programs expired Sept. 30. The fully paid for, bipartisan $4.5 billion childhood nutrition bill, which passed the House Thursday and the Senate in August, will renew and expand federal support for school lunch programs to reach more at-risk children and to improve the nutrition of school meals in several ways. The school meal improvements include:
* Increasing the federal reimbursement rate per meal - the first increase in 30 years, aside from inflation adjustments -- so that schools are able to offer more nutritious food.
* Allowing schools in high poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications, increasing access to the program and reducing the administrative burden on schools.
* Expanding the after school supper program, through which students from low-income households can receive evening meals, to all 50 states.
* Authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to create national nutrition standards for all food sold at schools during the day, limiting the availability of unhealthy foods sold in vending machines. * Improving the Women, Infants, and Children program to lessen the administrative burden on state WIC offices and to promote breastfeeding.

The bill includes $40 million in assured funding for Leahy's Farm to School program, which encourages community-based efforts to link local farms to school lunchrooms. This Leahy initiative will expand farm to school links through competitive grants for technical help in connecting school food service providers with local small and medium sized farms for efficient and cost-effective purchases of locally produced foods for school lunchrooms.

Read the full story here.