Now this is the way to welcome Fall – by celebrating with our community at Orcasong.
So honored to receive the invite and have a chance to check out this new and exciting farm I’ve been watching for many months. I live just around the corner and have been watching the transformation, the newest being the lavender fields.
You can feel the energy coming from the farmers tending the land. Fencing was erected, the ground was tilled, materials and farm hands showed up and then the planting. What could it be? Lavender … and the promise of color and sweet fragrance to come!
But lavender is not all this farm is producing.
Orcasong’s mission is to restore the land they steward on Orcas Island using ecologically regenerative practices. Guided by the wisdom of nature, they are committed to local resilience and social change and to advance through holistic education, arts and event programming, environmental advocacy and interwoven farm-based enterprises.
You can feel the mission statement when you arrive. On this day, farmers were working in the gardens and offer big smiles encouraging me to come help harvest fresh vegetables, wander and dream in the flower-filled overgrown garden laid out with purpose and standing proud in the soil. I love the mix, feeding the soul and the body.
Walking around the grounds, you can see the love and intention given to every detail. These farmers really walk the talk, collaborating with a team that searches for solutions to keep them connected to the land, the people and this community.
Standing among them, I can’t help but feel how life can keep us spinning in our own worlds, keeping us from slowing down and taking in the gifts right in front of us.
Food, friends, song, sharing, dreaming – it just doesn’t get any closer to “island life” than this experience.
The sixth annual Festival of Trees is happening this month at Rosario Resort. Visitors can come to see the uniquely decorated trees in the main lobby of the resort’s mansion. The trees are decorated by local non profit organizations with ornaments that portray what each organization embodies. There is a pet themed tree from the Animal Protection Society, and tree of smiling children’s faces from The FunHouse, and a wild animal themed tree from Wolf Hollow. And of course the garden of wonders tree created by students in my class to represent the Orcas Island Farm to Cafeteria program. Each tree is a beautiful representation of the great things the non-profits in our community do to contribute to making this a wonderful place to live.
Every year for 6 years now my students in Farm to Classroom at Orcas Island Elementary School have created beautiful handmade ornaments to decorate our tree. This year is no exception! Our ornaments represent many of the topics that we have studied so far this year.
A magnified image of a frozen molecule of water serves as the star of our tree.
It is tradition for the kindergarten students to string the popcorn. A lesson involving proper use of needles, using caution for tender fingers, and methods for perfecting the long untangled strand. Some children approach the situation with caution and others with wild abandon. Even though the popcorn is days old (easier to string without breaking) the children still enjoy eating as much as they string.
Our third grade students used a photo paper called cyanotype that uses the sunlight to expose images. The children choose items from our garden and placed them on the paper in the sun. After 10 minutes they rinsed the paper in water and set the images.
We have an interactive element to our tree this year. You can use one of the many magnifying glasses hanging on our tree to look into the tiny bottles filled with seeds hanging from the branches. You will find papers with glued on seeds clothespinned to the tree also. We have been busy saving seeds this fall and thought this would be a fun way to share some of our seed knowledge and excitement.
After studying apples this fall and learning that every apple has a star in it, we just had to include some dried apple slices with stars proudly displayed on our tree.
Please come admire our hard work and place a vote for our tree if you feel compelled. You can buy tickets for $1 each and place them in the voting boxes of the trees of your choice. All of the proceeds go directly to the non-profits and you will be entered for prizes from Rosario Resort and Spa and Kenmore Air. Rosario will be hosting a special Open House this weekend December 9-11 daily between 12pm and 8pm. You can enjoy the trees as well as complimentary cookies and hot apple cider.
If you can’t make it this weekend, the trees will be up through the New Year.
I sent my child into the forest with strangers and he came out more alive then ever!
Did you know that Orcas Island has a Forest School? Forest School is relatively new idea in America but has been successful and commonplace in many European countries for several decades. The Orcas Island Forest School offers a play-based, all- outdoor, nature immersed and child directed education. Children ages 2.5 to 6 years old learn and play together in a multi-age, outdoor setting.
When I first heard about the Forest School model I was instantly intrigued. My son Johnny wasn’t quite old enough and hadn’t fully potty trained so I had time to think it over. I teach at Orcas Island Public School where I created and teach a class called Farm to Classroom. I consider myself and outdoor educator since my classes take place in our school garden for most of the school year. I have seen first hand how valuable it is for children to spend time immersed in nature. I have seen the excitement of discovery. The glow of rosy cheeks, flush from the warmth of the sun or the sting of the wind and how that translates to a mind fully engaged. I want more of this for all of our school children. Ultimately I knew this was what I wanted for my youngest child too.
I signed my son up for the morning session, two days a week. We talked about it. He seemed excited. We went on vacation and missed the open house day. We returned from vacation and tried to connect for a quick visit before the first day but life was hectic and it didn’t happen. I drove Johnny to see the forest site the evening before his first day. He seemed to be excited.
On the day of Forest School we wake up early and pack Johnny’s lunch, something he has never done before. He is excited to get dressed and wear his long-johns under his clothes. We fill his new backpack with extra clothes, a water bottle, and the packed lunch. We get in the car and drive down the hill and across the main road to the back entrance of Camp Orkila where the Forest School is held. As we drive through the woods Johnny says, “Mommy, the woods are dark.” He is right, they are. Next he tells me he is nervous, gulp. We arrive and park in front of the big red barn. We meet another little boy who is coming for his first day also. We walk over to meet one of the teachers who is waiting in the field near the forest edge. Johnny starts to cling. Then he wants me to hold him. When we get to the teacher he can no longer speak. Oh no! I start to really regret not going to the open house! I know he is going to be safe and have a great time, but he is not quite three years old and he doesn’t have the same perspective. All of the children arrive and it is time for them to walk together into the deep dark forest, leaving their parents behind. Johnny is clinging tightly now. He won’t let go, he won’t say goodbye. I give him a hug and a nudge. His new teacher reaches down and asks if Johnny needs a hand with his new backpack. They walk off into the forest together. I hold my breath. I watch. At the edge of the forest he turns around and I wave. It is time for me to turn and walk back to the big red barn. As I do, I hear Johnny yell “momma” in that panicked voice that every parent fears. I wave again but keep walking. I hear him yell again and this time he is crying. Oh my God, I have just sent my son into the woods with complete strangers and he thinks I am abandoning him! I am the worst mom in the world! The other mothers comfort me in the parking area. I can still hear my sweet little boy crying for me and it is ripping my heart out. I start to cry. One of the other moms walks into the forest to see if the teachers want me to come get Johnny. She returns to report that he was in the arms of one of the teachers “snuggled like a bear cub”. He was whimpering, but showing interest in his surroundings. The other moms convince me to leave. The teachers have my number and I live just a two minute drive away. I drive away with tears in my eyes. I get home and look down at the forest below where I have just left my son, and I pray that I have made the right decision. Within a few minutes the phone rings, “Is this Johnny’s mom?” Oh no! My heart skips a beat. It is one of his teachers calling to tell me that Johnny has stopped crying and is currently exploring the forest with the other children. Yay!
Two very long hours later I return to the camp and walk into the forest to the meet Johnny at the covered area where they hang back packs and keep supplies. My heart is racing as I get closer. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around my sweet little boy. I can’t wait for him to see that I haven’t abandoned him. But he is nowhere to be seen? I see other kids. Where is Johnny? One of the teacher sees my face and kind of nods in the direction of some little Superman boots sticking out from behind the shelter. I hear some whispering and snickering. I know this game! “Where is Johnny?” I ask loudly. He comes running out with his arms wide open. His smile is huge and his cheeks are flushed. Sigh.
There is no time to ask the teachers how things went. Johnny is running into the forest leading me to his “favorite tree” and then off to his “favorite rock” and then shouting excitedly that he heard a wood pecker just like the one at our house.
Johnny’s favorite tree!
Johnny’s favorite rock!
We finally get back to pick up his backpack and say goodbye. As he emerges from the forest I see that he has put his backpack on his front. I realize that it is much too big and he tells me that if he wears it this way it doesn’t tip him over!
He leads me to some rocks and we sit on the biggest rock to eat his lunch. He talks excitedly about his morning in the forest. He tells me he wants to come back again and again. Phew! I am not the worst mom in the world after all!
I am so excited that my youngest son has this opportunity. We have many amazing pre-school and school options on Orcas Island, all of them are unique and wonderful. I am grateful to live in a place that values the education and well-being of all our children. What a wonderful community to live in.
Mandy lives with her family on Orcas Island where she teaches at the local Elementary School and sells real estate at T Williams Realty.
Here it is, March again. It certainly came in like a lion here on Orcas Island! I began thinking about the Lucky Irish as soon as my calendar turned. My Farm to Classroom students at Orcas Island Elementary got a baking lesson last week complete with some Irish history and basic chemistry.
Bread soda was introduced in the early 1800s and it suddenly meant that people who didn’t have an oven—and virtually nobody had an oven then—could make soda bread. They cooked the bread in what’s called a bastible—a big cast-iron pot with a lid on it that would have been put right onto the coals or onto the turf fire. The great thing about soda is that it was not as perishable as yeast and it would have been relatively inexpensive. The Irish people would have had buttermilk from the cows (old-fashioned buttermilk is a by-product of making butter) and they would have been growing wheat, so they would have had flour (whole wheat of course).
A very basic explanation of the reaction between the soda and the acidic buttermilk was followed by a classic demonstration of the concept using baking soda and vinegar.
Time to make the bread!
Traditionally a cross was cut into the bread before baking. Some people said it was to let the fairies out. Some said it was to keep the devil out. But most likely it was to help the bread bake evenly!
Add some rosemary or other herbs for a dash of flavor.
Bread is best when shared with friends!
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons caraway seeds or rosemary (optional)
1 teaspoon baking-soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (about) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly flour baking sheet (or cast iron pan). Mix flour, caraway seeds, if using, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Mix in enough buttermilk to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball. Turn out onto lightly flour surfaced and knead just until dough holds together, about 1 minute. Shape dough into 6-inch-diameter by 2-inch-high round. Place in cast iron pan. Cut 1-inch-deep X across top of bread, extending almost to edges. Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.
Orcas Island School District is home to one fantastic school garden. You’ll find it right there next to the great maple tree in front of the big brick building that houses Orcas Island Elementary School.
The garden is maintained by the Elementary Children during a weekly class called Farm to Classroom. I have been teaching this class since its inception almost six years ago. It is a labor of love and a time of great discovery by all.
Miss Mandy sharing a watermelon grown in the school garden with some eager students!
One of my favorite activities in the garden is the yearly “great potato dig” with the Kindergarteners. It is early October in the school garden and the potato patch is ready for picking! Enter 35 Kindergarten Students. First a quick lesson on potatoes. You wouldn’t believe how many 5 year olds don’t know that potatoes grow under the ground. You can imagine the delight on their faces once they realize that they get to dig for the buried treasure.
Farm to Classroom students digging for potatoes!
The digging commences and soil starts flying from the children who dig with wild abandon. Some of the kids decide it is much tidier to pull the plant and pick the potatoes off the roots. Everyone is actively engaged.
Beautiful red potatoes and the excitement of pulling out the entire plant with potatoes still attached at the roots!
Oh, the squeals of delight as they find their first potato! And then the variety of colors and potato shapes cause more shrieks of delight and several shouts of “Show me, show me!”
Just look at our variety of potatoes. Red, purple, blue, yellow, and we even grew a heart shaped potato!
The potato patch was plentiful this year. We started a new patch in a well-seasoned compost pile. Added to that was a delivery of soil from San Juan Sanitation to establish a nice deep area of loose soil. We planted organic potato seeds of several varieties. What a fabulous combination. We will use these potatoes for cooking projects in the classroom this winter.
“This one looks like a person!”
The children have put the garden “to bed” for the winter. The potato patch was gently tucked in with a cover crop of fava beans that will certainly provide another exciting opportunity for discovery next spring!
Third and Fourth grade students prepare the potato patch for the fava bean cover crop planting.