We, Charlotte and Camille, the workshop leaders (you’d probably forgotten about us, because we’ve neglected our blog updating responsibilities) have been having a blast on Friday nights at CIW. To make up for our negligence, and to convey our enthusiasm, we’re supplying you with ample details regarding what we’ve taught, discussed, and discovered in the past several months.
In mid-November, Camille led a workshop on organics, as a follow-up to the previous week’s discussion on the subject. After reviewing the definition of “organic” and the benefits of organic gardening, the group discussed whether or not organic produce is actually nutritionally healthier than conventionally-grown produce—that is, if it contains more vitamins and minerals. While we all knew organic foods are great because they don’t contain pesticides, we hadn’t discussed whether they were nutritionally healthier. To gain insight on the issue, we listened to the first half of an NPR Talk of the Nation podcast called “Is Organically Produced Food More Nutritious?” The podcast described the findings of a recent study comparing organic and conventional strawberries, saying organic strawberries do, in fact, have more antioxidants and vitamin C, and they grow in much healthier and more genetically diverse soil. We were surprised to hear that organic berries even rotted more slowly than conventional ones. One woman mentioned that she had found this out herself years ago at home. Before buying organic berries, her parents bought conventional ones that would rot before she had the chance to eat them; when her parents made the switch to organic, she had more time to eat them before they went bad! Even though the organics were a little pricier, they were getting eaten, whereas the others were going down the drain.
The following week, we continued our focus on organic foods in a more interactive way. Women paired up, and the two of us gave each pair a slip of paper displaying a disapproving comment about organic foods, such as “organic foods are too expensive.” Each comment was different, and each pair discussed ways to respond to the comment. They then shared the comment and their response with the group. Charlotte transitioned to a new facet of eating healthfully by reading a segment from a New York Times article, in which the author argued for the consumption of “real” food, even if that means it’s not organic. After all, a conventionally-grown apple is probably better for you than an organic butter cookie. An organic label doesn’t guarantee healthy food. At the end of the workshop, women spoke up about what topics they wanted to see covered in future workshops, providing us with important insights into their interests (vegetarianism, finding complete proteins, planting specific vegetables…).
On Friday December 3rd, we devoted class time to learning about the produce growing in CIW’s organic garden. With everyone’s help, we compiled a long list of the fruits and vegetables that were then appearing, and juxtaposed that list with a list of fruits and vegetables that typically appear in the winter months. The women then broke up into small groups and chose one fruit or vegetable from the lists to focus on. They took about 20 minutes to look through the books we brought to class, and to find out everything they could about planting and caring for it. They attempted to answer the following questions: How and where should the crop be planted? How long does the plant take to mature? (How long ago did we have to plant the seeds to get vegetables now?) What is it best planted with? The women addressed spacing, proper soil conditions, appropriate watering techniques, and a few interesting or surprising facts about the plant. What ensued was a lively discussion about companion planting, variations in a vegetable’s flavor that results from planting seeds at different times of year, and even tips for cooking eggplant that ensure it won’t turn bitter. One group found that planting garlic near roses will make a rose’s scent more pungent! (We’d like to test this ourselves!)
During the last workshop of the semester, Charlotte gave us the dirt on dirt. She introduced the topic of soil health by playing a short NPR podcast (as you can tell, we have come to appreciate, and even rely on, NPR!). “The Sweet Smell of Rain,” from Science out of the Box, revealed that ozone and soil bacteria produce that refreshing smell after rainfall. Charlotte then covered the three basic soil types—clay, sand, and silt—and defined terms such as “loam,” “humus” and “aggregate.” She talked about soil as a living thing (“It has DNA!?” some asked skeptically), and the role that sunlight, water and nutrients play in its fertility. In turn, she talked about the benefits of healthy soil for plant growth and nutrition. Women paired off to investigate a test they could perform in CIW’s garden to examine soil fertility. They shared with the rest of the group what their test involved and what its results could reflect about soil quality. Each group was also responsible for creating a drawing that symbolized their test, for those of us visual learners!
After the long holiday, we devoted a workshop to examining diabetes. Charlotte began by posing a few questions: Do you know anyone living with diabetes? How has the disease impacted your life? What do you know about diabetes? Everyone knew someone living with the disease, and the disease had affected everyone directly or indirectly. One woman shared the hardship diabetes had brought upon her family—amputations, blindness, and even early deaths. It became clear that the disease affects people we know, and that it’s prevalent in the U.S.—nearly 26 million Americans live with the disease today, according to the American Diabetes Association. After establishing the necessity of knowing more about it, Charlotte delved into the science behind Type I and Type II diabetes, using illustrations. Visualizing the glucose/insulin paths and relationship in the body made the information accessible to everyone, and provided clarity on an issue most women had questions about. One woman shared her experience with gestational diabetes, and we talked about its symptoms and effects. Everyone left with a greater understanding about this ever-present but quite mysterious disease, and the personal stories hit it home.
“I’m taking all these oils—like fish and flax—and my gosh, my brain is working better, I can tell!” said Diane. “I have all these numbers floating around in my head, and that never used to happen!” We were discussing good and bad fats, a conversation that stemmed from our talk on avocados. (If you want to hear more about the nutrition behind fats, just check back in a couple of weeks, because we’re planning a workshop on them). But, back to the topic of avocados: Camille’s grandfather happens to be an avocado grower here in Southern California (and the inspiration behind a workshop devoted to the avocado). Over semester break, she conducted a few informal interviews with him, after the group of women begged for information she was ashamed she couldn’t provide. She learned loads about his orchard’s history, the planting and tending process, the trees and fruits themselves, the road to becoming certified organic, and the avocado industry, both past and present. During last Friday’s workshop, Camille shared what she learned. Exploring the ins and outs of the fruit made everyone hungry—and we satisfied our longing by eating none other than the subject of our workshop: avocados! Charlotte and I agreed we hadn’t seen appreciation like we did that night in a long, long time.