Rio Vista – We come from the soil, and we return to the soil


Hello Garden Friends,

Today at Rio Vista I brought some tomato seedlings and several other varieties of seeds to throw in the soil, also we found a grasshopper! After a quick lesson to remind the children the proper form of planting a seedling I mentally prepared the students for my next lesson: “We come from the soil, and we return to the soil.”




I had been planning this lesson since I discovered a dead opossum in the garden last October. I took the opossum and placed it in a hand-made wooden decomposition box filled with leaves, straw, and the maggots that we already starting to digest the remains. I buried the box in a corner of the garden where none of the students walk and would water it every once in a while to make sure that the maggots and bacteria which break down the animal proteins would have something to drink. 5 months later and the bones look pretty clean!

I prepped the kids to see the bones by telling the story of how we are made of nutrients from the soil. We eat plants that grow in soil. Some of us eat animals that eat plants that grow in soil. Some of us eat animal byproducts that come from animals that eat plants that grow in the soil. But, we all come from the soil. Then I told them that at the end of our lives, we turn back into soil with the help of decomposers. Small creatures that take the nutrients in our bodies and return us to the cycle of life. Next, I shared the story of the possum who died under our banana tree as well as the skull that was cleaned by the decomposers. Many students had never seen a dead animal before. Some were even curious enough to gently touch the teeth and face bones!

Until next time,

Farmer Jeff

Jeff Mailes

Jeff Mailes is a garden designer and environmental educator working out of Woodland Hills, CA. A Los Angeles County Master Gardener and UC Davis Alumni, Jeff earned his B.S. in Environmental Resource Science in 2012 and has been growing edibles and natives for the past 6 years. Jeff's passion for plants and garden education has led him to school gardens from Los Angeles to Sacramento and all the way up to Portland, Oregon. Now familiar with ecosystems across the West Coast, Jeff has settled back home and works to bring people together over food and inspire the next generation of earth stewards to leave it better than they found it. When not writing about himself in the third person, Jeff enjoys singing with his guitar, going on camping and hiking excursions, and tossing a frisbee around with his friends.

Beans are good for your Heart

A rainy day soundtrack of thunder and lightning did not hinder Yorkdale Elementary Tk, 4th & 5th graders from learning all about the parts of a seed. We began our class seated in a circle upon the floor in a large muti purpose room with focused students entranced in an exercise we dubbed, Parts of…
Read More

‘Digester’ laziest way to feed soil!

January started with a bang! Lots of much wanted and needed rain absorbed by the cover cropped beds and mulched pathways. Plus an extension of the winter break with a teacher strike that brought everyone back to the garden with so much renewed enthusiasm that it made my new approach to teaching so much easier…
Read More

TIOH Student Get Down and DIRTy

This month, the 2nd graders met some of my super helpful worm friends. We learned about how different they are from any human we have come across. I mean, do you know of any human that has 5 hearts? Yes, I said FIVE hearts. We learned how helpful they are for our soil, and in…
Read More

Gardner Artists and Observers

Gardner Kinder students really delved into their artistic side as we discovered and learned about the different parts of plant. We put our writing and drawing skills to the test while putting our own personal touches to our creations. Watch out, Picasso! I see some new artists in town! The second graders delved deep into…
Read More

Rain Gain at Arroyo Seco

At Arroyo Seco, the rains brought in lots of growth! Our leafy greens grew many more beautiful green and two-toned leafs. Our cauliflower started to make their debut and even some rain-loving fungi (mushrooms) started growing – not to worry, they were promptly removed after observing how beautiful, creative, and interesting they were! I also…
Read More

A Moment of Zen Aromatherapy at Mt. Washington Elementary School

In January, while our brave teachers and students were striking in the pouring rain, we calmly cheered them on from inside our cozy classrooms with garden aromatherapy. Sitting in a circle on a blanket, we identified stuff that cause us to feel stress in our lives.  Children shared candid examples of their personal fear &…
Read More

Let’s Talk Dirt @ Micheltorena

It’s so nice to be back in the garden after the long break, only this time I have younger classes and boy has it been an adventure! It’s nice to go from week 1 of “ewwwww” when we see insects to genuine curiosity as to why insects live where they do. We couldn’t have chosen…
Read More

Calvert 3rd Graders Strengthen Their Research Skills

Our 3rd Graders this week took to their field journals to make observations about leaf shape, size, vein and stem structures. This work built off of previous lessons on garden mapping and co-planting. We discussed how these structural and design differences lend to better absorbing light, moving around nutrients, and fitting next different plants in the…
Read More

Herbs Herbs Herbs and Spices with Mayberry 1st Graders

Mayberry 1st Graders got up-close with new smells, sights and textures this week. Along with their teacher, we discussed how to identify key differences between herbs and spices (think leaves/seeds vs bark/roots). Students tested their senses noting differences in smell and texture, and found not all were pleasant.  We had fun telling stories about tacos…
Read More

The Three Sisters and a Winter Salad.

Calvert’s kids this week learned about the ancient tradition of companion planting. The most well known system, The Three Sisters, was developed by Native Americans and to go over the pattern we drew diagrams with chalk on the asphalt. We talked about the importance of arranging crops so they complement one another based on their different requirements…
Read More

Freshening Angeles Mesa Elementary

By David Ames | January 31, 2019

We have been super excited and entertained during our first Unit at Angeles Mesa. Kids from Pre-K, K and 5th grade have enjoyed learning and interacting with plants and garden. EnrichLA resumed activities at Angeles Mesa in the middle of November, bumping into a few days-off due to Thanksgiving, Winter Break, and then the strike,…

Getting organized at Taking the Reins

By Marina Frugone | November 21, 2018

“How do we know when to harvest?”  aaaah…. a hunch? a feel? it smells right? fruit’s the right size? Why don’t we make a harvest calendar! Pulling out the trusty UC Master Gardener Handbook and looking up the approximate harvest time for each of our plants. The girls are attentive!    Also, though it is…

A world beneath our feet… ALC students dig it up

By Marina Frugone | November 21, 2018

“Eeeeeewwwwwwwwww!” said ALC student. “What did I do?” said squirmy worm exposed to the sunlight. “Worms are amazing. Here, grab one and I’ll tell you about what they do” said Garden Ranger. “Their poop is really good for the plants and they create air pockets for roots. Worms are legit.” said other ALC student. ”…

Sprouts for the Sprouts at Mid-City’s Prescott

By Marina Frugone | November 20, 2018

The 1st and 2nd graders of Mid-City’s Prescott School of Enriched Sciences (the sprouts, the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are the seedlings…) watched these radish babies grow from seed to seedling and last week we discovered why root vegetables sometimes grow hugging each other…like these carrots… Once roots start to grow and grow under…

Stewardship at Taking the Reins

By Marina Frugone | November 20, 2018

Every Sunday I teach at Taking the Reins, a non-profit dedicated to building their four core concepts: responsibility, confidence, teamwork and leadership to teen girls in LA. Last Sunday, our main lesson was on garden troubleshooting and land stewardship where we made a list of things to do when you walk into the garden: watch…

Growing in the City…

By Marina Frugone | November 5, 2018

Between Westlake (McArthur Park) and Downtown LA you’ll find Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a high school made up of several ‘sub’ schools. One of them, the Academic Leadership Community or simply ALC. The after school garden group meets every Tuesday from 1:30-3PM in a small but oh so mighty garden overlooking downtown. From day one,…

The Wait for Water is Over- Berendo is Blooming!

By Catherine Siefert | November 30, 2018

This month at Berendo Middle School, the students learned about the soil pie chart, producers & consumers, climates & seasons, and parts of plants. This was these students first exposure to the garden so there was lots to learn! With the construction going on, the water had been turned off for a couple weeks so…

Ladybugs, Seeds, & Weeds at 2nd Street!

By Catherine Siefert | November 30, 2018

This month, the students at 2nd Street Elementary learned about dirt, friends & foes, seasons, and parts of plants. This was these students’ first exposure to the garden class so we were starting from ground zero- very exciting! For the “Let’s Talk Dirt” lesson, the students got their hands dirty touching some wet clay soil…

Friends and Foes – Insects at Micheltorena

By Alex Arciniega | February 8, 2019

If you know me, you know I love working the soil. When I first started gardening, I was so naive about what makes a successful garden. I thought, “oh it must be the seeds!” As time goes on, I realize so much of the wonder of a productive garden comes from the soil. And so…

New System for School Food Waste Composting at Micheltorena

By Alex Arciniega | February 8, 2019

We rolled out our first day of food collecting during lunch time at Micheltorena. Equipped with a bucket and a compost sign. I set it up at the lunch area. I had lunch with the kids and wanted to see what they were eating and what they were throwing away.   The kids who have…