Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Alviso Adobe Community Park: My Experiences

I have been visiting the Alviso Adobe Community Park in Pleasanton, CA, since it opened in 2008. This video documents my amazing journey of learning experiences there, and it also serves as a way to share about the park's history and beauty.

I have written a lot on this blog about my experiences at the park. Please click here to view those posts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hiking: A Social Cure for a Disconnected World

In addition to being great exercise and a way to get to really awesome places in the world, hiking is also one of my favorite social activities. Since the time I was old enough to hike around Pinecrest Lake, I was making the trek with my family, trying to keep up with uncles and cousins in my little hiking boots and sunhat. I've always been a hiker, and I continue to be one, especially since I live in a hilly forest off the coast of the Pacific Ocean. How can you not be a hiker when you live two minutes from hiking trails and views of the ocean?

Given this interest in hiking and the opportunities for social engagement and community building that it offers, this past fall, a fellow student sustainability leader at UC Santa Cruz and I organized a hike into the Upper Campus trails that meander through forest and meadow above our university home. The goal was to bring together students, staff, faculty, community members interested in sustainability at UC Santa Cruz for a day hike to explore the natural space where we live, learn, and work.

My fellow sustainability hike leader and I had met at the Harvest Festival at the campus farm at the beginning of the quarter, where he served me countless bike-pedal-generated smoothies that he had made himself as I sat tabling for the Sustainability Office in the sweltering September heat.

A few days later, we spoke during dinner at the Student Environmental Center's General Gathering, and we realized we both had an interest in getting students from sustainability orgs on campus to spend more time together outside of org events. We swapped numbers, met in the library a couple times to draft an email, and then sent it out to everyone involved with sustainability work on campus, using the list-servs and email addresses that I have access to as the Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Sustainability Office (not an abuse of power, given that these hikes serve to further the aims of my job, even if I don't count those hours toward work). We even made a Facebook event for the hike. We were stoked.

The day came to meet up in the North Remote Parking Lot. I showed up first with my hiking shorts and hiking boots and reusable water bottle. No sign of anyone.

A few minutes later, I got a text message from my co-leader, who is the Transportation Coordinator for the organzation who hosted the General Gathering. He was on his way, and walked up from his redwood-surrounded apartment a few minutes later.

We waited. And waited.

"Well, it's time to go. Should we just start hiking?" No one else had shown up, and I'd received at least one text message from a friend who wasn't coming after all.

"Yeah, let's go."

We hiked up into the forest, just the two of us, on what would become not only the first of many sustainability inter-organizational hikes, but our first hike together, our first date, and our first chance to get to know each other through awesome conversation on the trail.

Hiking is a great social activity with both people you don't know well and people you do know well. You're moving around, exercising and getting high on endorphins, immersed in wild places that feed your soul, and there aren't really awkward silences. You're hiking outdoors, and silence is never awkward in the outdoors--there is so much to hear and experience and learn from when you are silent in a natural space.

We ended up hiking through Wilder Ranch State Park and all the way to the Highway 1, crossing the asphalt to reach our destination: the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We settled into some cliffs by a little cove, where the water rushed in at every wave and then receded. The sounds were soothing, the sun was warm, and we ate our lunch, enjoying the day, kind of glad that no one else showed up on the hike because of the opportunity it gave us to spend time together.

"I heard that some study found that chocolate is detected in the brain to cause more pleasure than kisses," he said to me. "But I don't really think so. What do you think?" I thought people only said those kinds of things in romantic movies, but I guess I was wrong. We had to test the theory, of course, so he shared an M&M with me, and then we shared a kiss. Like I said, hikes really are the best way to get to know someone.

Since then, he and I have organized a few other hikes, bringing together our friends, coworkers, and people who heard about the hike from Facebook or campus newsletters. I've had interesting conversations on the trail with people I never would have met otherwise, and I've realized how simple and worthwhile organizing hikes can be. People in the sustainability world of UC Santa Cruz now know about the hikes, and many who haven't come before have expressed interest in coming in the future. I cannot wait for spring quarter and the sunlight and flowers, which will hopefully draw even more people out to our hikes.

A photo of the fantastic group who came on our second inter-organizational sustainability community hike. I got to know some people on this hike who have brightened my life, and they continue to remain in my life either in person or through the perspectives I gained from talking with them.

As for hiking dates with my transportation coordinator friend, who has since become my boyfriend, we definitely continue to hike together, getting to know each other better every time. We just went on a gorgeous hike yesterday at a county park near San Jose, and we had a really good time enjoying the view from the top of a hill.

I believe that in addition to the conditions for conversation that hiking creates, the energies and connections that happen in nature between self and wilderness transform human social interactions into deeper connections when you spend time outdoors with someone one-on-one. Observing natural space, viewing the soil and vegetation and ecosystems, getting to know the environment, talking about where we would choose to live if we had been people living there thousands of years ago, and having moments of connection with nature together--all of this connects us to nature and ourselves.

Ultimately, hiking is a connecting activity, and in this digital age of social and human disconnection through overconnection with technology, hiking is a cure that I cannot get enough of. I encourage you to consider organizing a hike with your friends, significant other, or family. It's easy, fun, really inexpensive, and the opportunities for engagement with yourself, nature, and others are so rewarding!

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Family of Writers, and Why You Should Visit Jeune Gal's Blog

Before I introduce my younger sister, who last night began a blog of her own (Jeune Gal), I want to provide some background about my family.

I come from a family of writers, each of us with a unique style and method of sharing our hearts and thoughts with the world. I have so much gratitude for the way I was brought up, always being read to and encouraged to write. My father recited Shakespeare to me when I was a really little kid, and perhaps the nectar of Shakespeare's language flowed into my developing brain and planted a seed that continues to grow each time a line of poetry or a storyline comes into my head.

When I was seven, I applied to be a poet laureate in my hometown at the suggestion of my father, who later did become the poet laureate. Though I knew I wouldn't be selected, going through the process of submitting poetry and receiving a personal letter of encouragement from the committee was an empowering process that no doubt contributed to my continued inspiration as a poet.

Every year that our local Poetry, Prose, & Arts Festival has taken place, my sister and I have attended, writing poetry, reading others' poetry and stories, and hearing from famous and local poets about why writing matters. We were even featured on one of the promotional postcards for the Festival one year.

A major reason that I've pursued the world of writing is my parents. My father is a journalist, community college English teacher, former poet laureate, television book show co-host, and writer of short stories. My mother writes every morning in a journal, relies extensively on her writing and communication skills in her job, and has many times in her life written letters and poetry. This barely scratches the surface of how my parents have been role models to me, not only in writing, but in everything they've done and how they've done it.

Beyond my parents, there are many other writers in my family, too, including my grandmother (and faithful Green Gal blog reader!), who has written a number of short books with stories and poems that she's given to family members and friends. I could go on about how family and friends in my life who write or express themselves artistically have inspired me to be the writer, poet, and artist that I am today, but that could take up ten more blog posts. This post is about my sister, one of my biggest inspirations and supporters.

Given the history of writing in our family, it's no surprise that my younger sister also has a knack for sharing her thoughts with the written word. Though I'm well aware that she was exposed to the same inspirations and models of writers as myself, she hasn't been in the habit of sharing her words as often as I have with my blog, so this morning when I read her latest blog post on her new blog, Jeune Gal, I was impressed and so proud of her. Her ability to communicate her thoughts into a story through blogging is something I've been trying to teach my peers about at college; it is not often that someone actually writes their blog in a way that captures "story-telling" in a very real sense, but my sister has managed to do this without anyone telling her how. She not only shares the heart of her story in a succinct way, she also organizes her thoughts in a way that ties everything together.

Her blog is a space to share her experiences with having a rare genetic disease called Jeune syndrome, which makes her small (among other symptoms and conditions). She is fortunate enough to have a very mild case, but it has still greatly affected her life in large, visible ways and in more subtle ways.

She also hopes that writing this blog will open up the door for connection with other older people with Jeune syndrome. Because the disease can be quite severe, most babies who are diagnosed with the disease die very young. My sister has been doing research to find others who have survived the condition, and so far she's only found one or two people who are old enough to connect online. Everyone else writing about or asking questions about the disease online are parents of children with the disease.

It's inspiring to see her putting her ability to write to the service of connection with others who are struggling or have struggled. Like I said, each of the writers in my family has a unique way, purpose, and skill in sharing through written word.

Please visit her blog and read about her experiences. Beyond the audience of those with Jeune syndrome or who have children or know children with the disease, the blog is written for society in general, so that we can all gain some perspective on what it means to be treated differently by people in our world based on appearance and how we can all have more compassion and respect for all people.

Perhaps the more people who read her blog, the higher the chance is that someone with Jeune syndrome will come across her posts. She would love to connect and share experiences with someone else in the world who has faced similar obstacles to her.

Her blog can be found at http://jeunegal.blogspot.com/

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why Fruit is Sustainably Fantastic

Have you ever realized that the most sustainably packaged, healthy, and portable snack out there is fruit? It comes with its own wrapper (its skin), it's good for your health and your soul (as my boyfriend always reminds me, fruit is designed by nature to be attractive and taste good... I say that anything whose sole intention is to make you feel good is good for the soul), and you can take fruit with you without hassle. Apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, and other hand-held fruits are especially portable, but strawberries, berries, and other smaller fruits are easy enough to carry in hand or in a basket.

Can we all just take a moment to be grateful and exhilarated by the beauty that is fruit?

Mmm, peaches at a local farm. Juicy and delicious and portable and not wasteful! Gorgeous, too!
Organic strawberries at the local farmers' market

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Philosophy of Teaching Statement

Effective teachers, educators, and mentors learn with their students, and they never stop seeing themselves as students. They are my third grade teacher who was actively involved in her community and took the time to learn about our families, to bring our families into the classroom, and to bring our class into her family’s home at the end of the school year. They are the college instructor who admitted his own philosophical questionings right there with us, giving the floor to students who were inspired by what they knew, empowering students to share and engage in class by acknowledging the value of their thoughts and passions. Even outside the classroom, every individual we meet—whether younger or older, student or teacher—has something to teach us, an ability to open up our perspective on the world so that we can make a connection and learn. Being open to listen to others’ teachings and the opportunities they bring to nourish the lives of those around them is what it means to live in a community and be engaged with life. Teachers have an opportunity to create a community in which everyone is heard, something we all need in order to feel valued by others and to value ourselves and our ideas.

A teacher’s job is to first, support her students in their fullness as humans, to see them for who they are and not who they appear to be, and to ignite their engagement with learning by helping them make connections between what they care about and what they are expected to know. Teaching concepts and facts can only happen at the level of student learning when this first piece has been cultivated and students can at least begin to see what’s happening on the whiteboard or in their textbook as related to their lives.

In addition to fostering connections between life and learning, teacher and student perspectives on learning must come from a place of growth. Being “smart” is not something that a student either is or is not; rather, one’s “smartness” or one’s “intelligence” is an ever-changing ability to critically think, understand concepts, make connections, and to most importantly never stop asking questions. In the Spanish language, the verbs “ser” and “estar” both mean “to be,” but “ser” is used to describe more permanent statuses of being, and “estar” is used to describe more transitory statuses of being, things that can change over time or in different situations. After studying Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept, getting to know students who are facing family life or social challenges beyond academic work, learning about the struggles of students whose first language is not English, and recognizing that every culture and every person values different aspects of life, my current understanding of “smart” is that a student “está” smart for particular reasons or in particular areas, not that a student “es” smart all the time or in every circumstance. We can become smarter about certain things, we can become more critically engaged with life, and we can always keep learning.

I bring Spanish into my philosophy of teaching statement because learning and understanding different languages teaches us so much about life and about how learning happens. It opens up our cultural perspectives when we learn new words, and it allows us a glimpse into how a different language’s use of description and metaphor might signify a difference in perspective or emphasis on aspects of life that in English-speaking cultures might be completely different. To live in California and want to teach and to not see the value and necessity of allowing Spanish to flourish in all of its vibrancy in the lives of students in their educational settings is absurd. Spanish speaking students are going to continue to be part of the community in California schools (and I hope they continue to be Spanish-speaking students as they grow up), and differences between teachers and students are always going to exist. Learning to see students as fully alive, culturally rich, knowledgeable, and capable human beings is necessary for creating a classroom or learning environment where each student feels connected to the community of learning and is willing to engage with all of her or his being. 

Before taking Education 180 and really thinking about what intelligence means, I thought of it as something people just did or didn’t have, that they could learn different things and develop different skills, but that the level of one’s “smartness” was what you were born with. Articulating this sounds ignorant and problematic, and if I had articulated this in words prior to taking this class, I hope I would have questioned it; but subconsciously and throughout my educational experiences, I came to think of learning and school in that way. Growing up, I was often told that I was smart and I could see the result in the kinds of grades I got, but I never thought about why I got those kinds of grades or what factors (family life, inspiring teachers, personal perspectives on learning, etc.) allowed me to succeed in the ways that were expected of me. My mindset was that intelligence was “fixed,” and I saw other students struggling and figured that there was something inherent in our abilities that was different. It didn’t really occur to me that the conditions for learning in a traditional classroom are only supportive of some students, as was discussed throughout the quarter and particularly when Downtown College Prep visited and share about how they engage students in their classes in non-traditional ways. Almost (and I say almost because I do not know if this is always true) all students are capable of understanding concepts and making meaningful connections, but for many, the ways in which school and learning are presented to them does not inspire or motivate them, given the many factors that affect a student’s ideal learning environment or the conversations and experiences that she or he needs in order to grow as a student.

 Learning cannot happen if students are not asking questions and creating their own paths to understanding by studying what they love and learning how it relates to what they need to know for school. Part of why I do well in school is that I have always found connections between school material and my life and interests. Once I can make a connection between a subject and something I care about, I suddenly see the subject in a new light, and I want to learn more. Though this can narrow learning opportunities in the long-run, this first step is vital to creating motivation and inspiration for students to pursue their work. When they can see how learning something new will enrich what they already know about subjects that interest them, they’ll actually want to learn. I saw this happening in my placement, where students were doing research projects on subjects of their choice, and they were actually engaging with learning in ways that rarely happened with other class assignments.

 To guide students to their own paths of understanding, teachers must know their students as individuals with the capability of engagement in life in order to support them. Ultimately, though, students must be the ones making the connections. Many students are not brought up to see their passions and interests as worth pursuing because of economic or social reasons, and this may be what inhibits them from bringing their interests into the classroom. As a teacher, the role in fostering this connection-building is to encourage students to be fully who they are, to bring their passions and interests, whatever they may be, into the classroom in meaningful ways. For example, students often get in trouble for bringing skateboards to school or for talking about non-academic subjects during class, but given enough freedom to engage with these “extra-curricular” interests in the classroom with the teacher’s support, students can become more engaged in both their studies and their interests. This might look like students working on research projects on topics of their choice or leading presentations in class to demonstrate things they know about and enjoy doing. In section we saw a video project that students had made, which was an opportunity for them to become the “teachers” and create something together. These opportunities can empower students, a vital aspect of learning that can inspire them to engage fully with their education and learning.

Students also must be engaged with their natural environment and community in order to be fully engaged in the classroom. We are surrounded by nature and live in a physical environment; to not know this space and the other living beings around us is to be disconnected from our very basic existence. How can students be expected to engage with historical information from 100 years ago, with biology terms they cannot pronounce, with mathematical equations, if they have never even truly seen the space and nature around them? Nature is a space for learning not only about the world, but also a space to discover through silence, reflection, and observation, what it means to be a human being on this planet. The same is true of engaging with community and seeing oneself as a valuable and connected part of a community of people. Engagement outside the classroom will ultimately bring engaged perspectives and ideas into the classroom, and teachers can help foster this by asking questions about the social and natural worlds students live in and by bringing students physically to nature and their communities through field trips.

 School is an enormous portion of our lives from the time we are in preschool to when we eventually graduate. Rather than sectioning off “school” from “real life,” school can be part of students’ “real lives” when teachers and schools help bridge connections between the communities of class, school, family, and the neighborhoods students live in. What would it look like if students from childhood to graduation and beyond lived with engagement to all aspects of their lives, aware that school is real life, not just preparation for real life? As a teacher and as a human being, I see every moment as an opportunity to engage and be present with the teachings and inspirations that exist in each member of a community, in nature, and in our ability connect with both.


This teaching statement is my final for my Education 180 class the University of California, Santa Cruz. Throughout the quarter, I spent 30 hours in a local high school classroom, observing an English teacher and helping students.

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