Follow fun updates as well as interesting stories about clients, volunteers and supporters of SFBFS

July 27, 2015

What Can I Eat?

Along with summer comes summer camp here at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. Once a week I get kids from the first through sixth grade for an hour of garden activities.  It takes some time to figure out what I should do with this diverse crowd in the garden. The older kids like games while the younger kids like touching, tasting and generally making a fun mess. I’m wary of letting the younger ones pick veggies since they tend to stray off paths and pull half a plant up. I have to be conscious with the older ones because they’ve started forming clusters and don’t willingly leave their friend group. So the goal of a kids’ gardening class: let kids explore healthy eating, gardening and science while keeping plants whole and monitoring the emotions and actions of potentially warring factions.  Sure, super easy. After a couple years, I’ve established a criteria for what happily occupies kids in the garden. The criterion follows:

For lower grades:
  •        Dirty is better. Paint, mud, markers are great. Spilling everything onto unprotected surfaces? Even better.
  •        Have edible things on hand. Younger kids generally have one question for me “WHAT CAN I EAT?”

For higher grades:
  •        Competitive games are the best. Does it involve running, accidentally smacking into each other and the glory of winning? They are all about it.
  •        Feeding the fish. These kids like responsibility and being a part of the process. Give them some fish food and away they go (applicable to other things involving responsibility).

All kids: Eating strawberries! When all else fails, direct them to the strawberry patch. Jokes aside, it’s a joy having youth in the garden and showing them plants or foods they have never seen or eaten.  Kids get so excited in a way that you rarely see in adults and they remind me how the garden and all the living things inside of it are magical and exciting!

Submitted by: Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator

June 29, 2015

Insight into ESL

My name is Phoebe Neuburger and I am a Global Studies student in my senior year at Whittier College in Los Angeles. This summer I was able to do my internship in Adult Education and in Refugee Resettlement Services at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS). Volunteer service at SFBFS is a tradition in my family. Last summer I enjoyed volunteering at a food distribution and also in SFBFS’ Youth Education summer camp working with young kids. My mom volunteers as a tutor in the evenings in Adult Education where she helps students prepare for the GED exam. I joined my mom one evening last summer and I remember I really liked it. The feeling of helping others gave me a sense of purpose and I enjoyed the feeling. I was hoping my internship at SFBFS would give me a better idea of what I might want to do in my life in relation to helping people.

My internship at SFBFS has been a truly memorable experience. I was able to observe and participate in (sometimesJ) the advanced level ESL class. The ESL classes offer students an opportunity to learn and/or improve their English language speaking, reading and writing skills. The advanced class offer adults the opportunity to improve their English fluency and advance to better jobs or community college. I was able to observe and interact with a diverse group of adults and it was amazing to see how motivated every student is about accomplishing their goals. Everyone has a unique story of how he or she arrived in the U.S.

I have heard English is one of the hardest languages to learn, especially when you are an adult. All the students I met were enthusiastic and grateful learners. I was adopted from Vietnam as an infant and the ESL students reminded me of how much easier it is to learn English as a small child. I was lucky to have been young enough to learn English as a young person compared to immigrants who come from different countries and learn English as adults. As a young girl I tried pushing myself to learn English but even so, I soon lost interest and wanted to give up. The ESL students I met have inspired me and helped me see what I could improve in my own life and helped me to reflect on myself and my future. Many of the students are parents learning English for themselves, but also for their children. Without sharing a common language with your community, life is much harder.

The advanced ESL class that I observed was taught by a friendly, enthusiastic teacher named Stuart Schulz. He is a high-energy and funny teacher in every class he teaches. He was joking and laughing with his students and I could see the close bond between teacher and student. I saw how the classroom did not have to be a serious learning environment all the time. I liked the relaxed environment of the classroom and the main office of SFBFS itself. It was great how friendly and welcoming everyone was to me throughout my internship. I enjoyed the class and laughed right along with students. I felt like I was part of the class. I thought it was heartwarming when Stuart talked about his students as if they were his own family. I could see that the fun and upbeat classroom environment brought out the personalities in all the students. The students seemed to love to come to class and to learn every day. They came prepared and they came with big smiles on their faces. It is one of the best memories of my internship at SFBFS.

Submitted by: Phoebe Neuburger, SFBFS intern

June 24, 2015

The Summer Jungle!



It’s definitely summer in the garden. How do I know? Oh, I have a mental checklist and once I can say YES to every list item, I know its summer. A few things on the list:

  • Can you barely walk past the squash plants without stepping into the adjacent garden beds?
  • Have the harlequin beetles returned to feast on the tree collards?
  • Are you beginning to find foot-long cucumbers that you failed to see in the cucumber jungle the day before (when they were only 6 inches long)?
  • Is the watering hose too hot to touch after 9:30 am?

If you answered YES to all of these questions, it is probably summer.
I have cucumbers and summer squash by the basket load and oodles of basil from the aquaponics system. The pepper plants are lush and bush-like, perfect for concealing their fiery fruits from the hot sun (and the subsequent sun scald). The eggplant got a late start, but it’s growing quickly and I can already see the differences in the three varieties I planted, exciting! The amaranth is about to go in the ground (and will shoot up to about eight feet tall) and the sorghum has just begun to set seed. The pole beans are climbing up their trellises and the baby sugar watermelons have baby melons all over. 
What am I saying? Tis’ an excellent time to be outside in the garden and see all the splendor of summer! Stop by and see what we’ll be harvesting next, it changes just about every week.
Submitted by Kate Wilkins, SFBFS Garden Coordinator

June 16, 2015

Summer is Here!



What a way to end our 2014-2015 school year in SFBFS'  Youth Education program, but celebrating our kids success!!! These past few days Krystal and I have had the opportunity to attend some of youth graduation ceremonies:  Bianca, Sahala, Beatriz, Nancy, Fernanda, Cynthia, Fabiola, Angelina, Aryanna, Gabriel.


Many of these kids we have known for many years! Beatriz, came to our program when she was only 1 year old and she would cry because she didn't want to stay and be away from her mom who was taking an ESL class... now she will be a freshmen in high school.  Bianca came to our program when she was just in first grade and her mom was taking a parenting class through our Parent Education program and is now entering middle school. Nancy came to our program when she was just a first grader, too, and will be attending Sacramento State University this fall. Fernanda enrolled when she was just in third grade and was scared of reading in front of others and now she is off to Sacramento State University too!


We are honored to have the opportunity to work with youth in our community because we are making a difference in their life's and the lives of their families. We walk by their side and are there in times of need when they feel sad, afraid, unsure and we share happy memories with them. The Youth Education program offers homework support, tutoring, enrichment activities, community service, college and career guidance, summer internships, summer camps and technology for teens - all for FREE to the community!

Submitted by Aurelia Garcia, Youth Education Program Manager & Counselor

May 28, 2015

Save Your Seeds!



Growing your own food is great step in supporting healthy and environmentally-sound food systems. If you feel like doing more, try saving your own seeds at season’s end. It may sound difficult, but it’s very easy to save seeds from most popular vegetables and herbs. Seed saving allows you to connect more deeply with your food and the rhythm of nature while saving money. You can also adapt your favorite varieties to your local climate. For a thorough list of reasons to try seed saving check out “40 Reasons to Save Seeds in 2015” from the Seed Savers Exchange.

Many great resources exist that explain why seed saving is important.  Sow True Seed’s article series on Mother Earth News is an introduction to the humble seed’s role in food security and crop diversity.  In a Huffington Post blog, Danielle Nierenberg of Food Tank highlights fifteen seed saving organizations (many in the US) collecting seeds in their regions and the world to preserve global agricultural biodiversity. For a longer read, check out Janisse Ray’s “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Seeds”. She dives into the genetics and politics of seeds while weaving stories of the “quiet revolution in thousands of gardens across America.”

There are also many wonderful resources on how to save seeds. Sow True Seed has a short and sweet guide with instructions on saving specific vegetable, herb and flower seeds. The Organic Seed Alliance offers a comprehensive guide to planting, harvesting and cultivating seeds as well as a short course in flower pollination. It’s in a printable format and may be a great resource to have on hand. For those who prefer to quickly isolate their crop of interest, the Seed Saver’s Exchange offers online Seed Saver instructions with a drop-down menu of crops and flowers. The organization also posts a monthly webinar covering seed saving techniques for different crops.

For seed savers who want to share their favorite crops and try new varieties, local seed libraries provide a space to share, trade and collect local biodiversity. Check out this Seed Library Locator Map to see if there is a library near you or add your local seed library! Also, this seed library directory lists many libraries found in the United States.

Seed saving is becoming increasingly popular as demand and concern about threatened crops and agricultural diversity rises.  Do you save your seeds? What are some of your favorite resources? Please share in the comments below. Happy seed saving!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at SFBFS

April 20, 2015

Plants: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Before I began working at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, I worked for the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico. My job title, Land Management & Conservation Intern, gave little indication of what I really did every day, which was drive around southern New Mexico collecting seeds of native flowers and grasses. It remains poetic and pastoral sounding to me still, and it generally was except for the amount of time I spent driving to sites in my gas-guzzling government truck. Many of my collecting sites were in the Chihuahuan desert, the huge expanse of arid land from New Mexico dropping into ol’ Mexico. I love deserts but many people don’t, because they see a flat, dead surface. When I look at deserts I see a flourishing, diverse array of flora – albeit a temperamental one dependent on seasons. It’s easy to love lush forests, thunderous rivers, breathtaking valleys and tall mountains. It’s harder to love deserts because you have to look much closer to see the life and color. Almost everything is small, from the plants to the animals. But everything is so tenacious and resistant and unwilling to die from the heat and dryness! I’ve always favored the underdog and it’s no different when it comes to biomes. Desert plants have become so well adapted to their environment that some will even die if the elements get too cushy (like overwatered).

Why am I talking about deserts? Because there is so much to learn and appreciate in these barren places.  Like that plants change with the seasons and they aren’t always beautiful and lush. Or that some plants have amazing adaptations like silvery foliage or waxy leaves that reduce their need for water. Or that small can be beautiful.

Not all of California is a desert (as some are fond of saying), but neither is it the East Coast or the United Kingdom, areas we have tried to emulate in our landscaping, a.k.a. lawns. There is such a beautiful diversity of Californian and Southwestern native plants well acclimated to our hot and drought-prone environment, that thrived before we ripped them up to lay sod. Blah, blah, blah – you’ve heard this chatter all before, the lawn is the enemy, it’s been drilled into your brain by now and for that I’m sorry. I don’t want the lawn to be the enemy, it’s good for many activities and serves a functional purpose. I want people to PREFER native landscapes over turf grass. I want there to be a shift in what’s considered beautiful. Perhaps you’ve walked around your neighborhood and passed by a house without a lawn but with a variety of colorful plants of different textures, heights and smells.  I find such a yard so engaging and fun to look at and I hope other people feel the same. Maybe people will become more interested if they have more information. Yes, you are supposed to stop flooding your native plants in the summer and they will look dead, that’s what’s supposed to happen. But what a treat when it that brown bush is flush with green foliage after the first fall rain?  Egad, a season!

It will take time, better information and a lot of discussion to change people’s perspective about native plants. The drought has gifted us (if you want to call it that) with a great opportunity to open this discussion with other neighborhoods and friends. It will definitely require a shift in mentality and our ideas about beauty, but change is always possible! 

Kate Wilkins
Garden Coordinator
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

March 23, 2015

Kate's Korner: April 2015

Garden Cooking for Free!

Have you ever tried to cook something with solar energy? You probably have, but didn't realize exactly what you were doing.  Ever fry an egg on the asphalt or accidentally cook something in your car? You harnessed solar energy! 

Solar cooking is an old concept but it took a while for anyone to apply the technology to food. Greenhouses were built in England and the Netherlands to house tropical plants from the Mediterranean regions. These solar traps later evolved into conservatories and sun rooms attached to houses. A Swiss-French scientist named Horace de Saussure created the first solar cooker in 1767 with five glass boxes set on a black surface. Since then solar cooking has slowly gained in popularity as its usefulness has proven itself. Solar cooking is great in arid regions, places bereft of firewood or fuel and humanitarian crises areas like refugee camps. Not only can people cook without fuel but they can also pasteurize water when safe sources are not available. Solar cookers can be left unattended all day and pose no danger to children like cooking fires or fuel might. When the reflective panels are angled towards the sun, a solar cooker can heat up to 350 degrees! People in the United States are becoming more interested in solar as a free and sustainable source of energy.


The Demonstration Garden is lucky to have two portable sun ovens that work great in cooking all sorts of garden-fresh produce. Last week I harvested carrots and threw some in the cooker with some fresh thyme and a splash of olive oil. They came out fantastic! I also cooked some potatoes, carrots, onions and Swiss chard with tomato sauce to share with the gardening class. I have big plans to cook bread, amaranth and corn in the sun oven later this summer! On a sunny day, come check what is cooking in the garden!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

March 3, 2015

Kate's Korner: March 2015

As California’s drought continues, farmers and gardeners are perhaps the most keenly aware of its repercussions. We work with water every day, whether checking irrigation lines, watering newly planted seeds or rinsing off fresh produce. I can tell you exactly how long I have been able to shut the irrigation off in the Demonstration Garden this year – 10 days. That was after the two largest (maybe only) rain storms we have had in winter and spring. I thought I could get away with not mulching a few beds because temperatures would be cool, but with the lack of rain and summer-like days I had to put in more work later to mulch around each little sprout.

I believe that this may be the new normal in California but even if it’s not, gardeners and farmers should take some easy, precautionary steps to conserve water. Even if the drought eventually ends, conservation is still smart for your wallet if you have a water meter, or soon will. A few cheap, simple steps to dramatically reduce your water usage and increase your water use efficiency are:

1. Mulching! Use straw, dried leaves, grass clippings, newspapers or almost anything that biodegrades to cover the soil surface of your garden or yard. This mulch acts as an insulating layer that protects plants from temperature fluctuations as well as reduces evaporation significantly.

2. Drip Irrigation! Save yourself the time and heartbreak of hand watering each day and set up a drip irrigation system. There are many different kinds, including drip tape, soaker hose, and drip line that deliver water directly where you want it while decreasing water loss to evaporation. Think about investing in a hose timer so the system will go on automatically because who likes to come home from work and find that there tomato plant completely fried on the hottest day of the summer?

3. Water deeply. By watering deeply you encourage plant roots to grow down, where they can avoid the scorching hot soil surface and find more water that seeps lower into the soil. This will reduce the amount of water you use.

4. Intensive planting. Plant crops closer together so there is less area to water and their leaves shade the soil, thereby reducing evaporation. There are some great online guides and books that suggest the distances to space crops when planting bio-intensively.  

Come check out the Demonstration Garden to learn more about any of these technique. I’ll also be trying other inventive water-saving measures, so stop by and see how they’re working!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.