ST. LOUIS (February 23rd, 2018)- Students in Gateway Greening’s Seed to STEM program keep growing thanks to a $205,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund for 2018-2019.
Gateway Greening has a long history of assisting St. Louis schools to fund and support school gardens. To help teachers effectively use the garden as an outdoor classroom and learning laboratory, Gateway Greening educators developed the Seed to STEM program.
“The Monsanto Fund grant makes it possible for Gateway Greening educators to provide weekly Seed to STEM lessons in five St. Louis Public Schools. Seed to STEM is a hands-on K-5 science curriculum that uses school gardens to reinforce Next Generation Science Standards, develop scientific inquiry skills, and inspire students to connect to their environment, food system and community,” said Lucy Herleth, Gateway Greeening’s School Program Manager. “With the Monsanto Fund grant, Gateway Greening is also able to support over 60 youth gardens as well as offer monthly educator workshops, district professional development and site-specific trainings.
The Seed to STEM curriculum is also available free to anyone that works with youth through the Gateway Greening website and its monthly educator email newsletter. Gateway Greening estimates that its school garden programs, along with the Seed to STEM initiative, have empowered more than 13,000 students across the St. Louis region to garden.
Lauren Hollis, a teacher at Clay Academy, said it takes “confidence” for educators to garden successfully with their students.
“In the beginning, I was so scared I was going to kill the plants,” said Hollis. “Now I have the experience and someone to answer questions. After going to the garden (for the past year), I would totally teach any lesson outside with confidence and not be worried.”
She also said gardening helps students to understand that food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store.
“Gardens help the students learn more about their environment and learn where their food is from,” she added. “Gardens help them see a process – a plant growing or a pumpkin decomposing.”
Clay Academy’s school garden was founded in 1993 and with the support of Gateway Greening educators and the Monsanto Fund, it has become a thriving outdoor classroom. Additionally, continued support from the Monsanto Fund will allow Gateway Greening to expand the Seed to STEM curriculum so that more teachers and students throughout the St. Louis region will have access to the program.
ABOUT GATEWAY GREENING
Gateway Greening, www.gatewaygreening.org, educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Led by Executive Director Matt Schindler, the organization supports over 200 community gardens and food projects as well as 60 school gardens in the St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area.
ABOUT THE MONSANTO FUND
The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the communities where farmers and Monsanto Company employees live and work. Visit the Monsanto Fund at www.monsantofund.org.
St. Louis Chefs use locally grown ingredients to create a benefit meal for Gateway Greening
ST. LOUIS, MO. (September 1, 2017) — St. Louis’ best chefs are cooking with locally grown produce to create great food for a local cause. Gateway Greening, a non-profit organization in St. Louis, educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Gateway Greening will host the 20th annual Chefs in a Garden Gala on Sunday, September 17 from 6:00 PM-9:00 PM at the Four Seasons St. Louis. The event’s media partner is St. Louis Magazine and producer is Synergy Productions. Sponsors of the event include Lexus, Centene Charitable Foundation, Commerce Bank, Home State Health, Husch Blackwell, Missouri Foundation for Health, and Greenscape Gardens and Gifts.
Other event highlights include a mystery raffle, Gateway Greening’s Chef of the Year Award, special guest food judge Holly Fann, a few words from Gateway Greening program representatives, and a special appearance by student chefs from St. Louis Public Schools. The event’s emcee is KMOV anchor Courtney Bryant and the auctioneer is Rene Knott of KSDK’s Today in St. Louis.
Tickets can be purchased for $150 per person. To purchase tickets, for sponsorship opportunities, and to learn additional event details, please visit www.chefsinagarden.org.
About Gateway Greening
Gateway Greening is a non-profit organization that educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Gateway Greening has been working to provide creative, grassroots solutions to urban problems since 1984. Programs include supporting more than 200 community and youth-focused gardens across the St. Louis area through educational opportunities, grants and technical assistance; urban beautification projects that enhance the downtown St. Louis urban landscape; and the Gateway Greening Urban Farm, a 2.5 acre farm in downtown St. Louis that provides therapeutic horticulture and jobs training programs to individuals who are homeless and underserved.
Over the years, many people have expressed their concern over Gateway Greening’s decision to use treated lumber for gardening purposes. Today, we would like to take a moment to address those concerns and to provide information on the different types of treated lumber available in general and the materials Gateway Greening uses in particular.
What is Treated Lumber?
Treated lumber is wood that has had compounds added to it in order to prevent wood-decaying organisms (bacteria, fungus, and insects) from decomposing the wood (1). Treated lumber is typically “pressure treated,” meaning high pressures are used to force preservative compounds into the wood. This provides more protection long term than a simple surface coat would.
Unlike untreated lumber, which will quickly start to break down when left exposed to the elements and wood-decaying organisms, treated wood remains usable for many years (1).
The History – CCA Lumber Treatment
Throughout much of the 20th century, lumber companies relied on a lumber treatment that utilized Chromium, Copper, and Arsenic (CCA). Studies found that arsenic could be leaching into soils that came into contact with the CCA treated lumber. However, arsenic is a compound found naturally in soils and the leaching was considered to be within safe limits.
Although CCA treatments were not found to pose an “unreasonable risk to the public” (2), the EPA decided to reduce Arsenic exposure, (3) (2) leading companies to cease manufacturing CCA lumber for residential use (4) in December of 2003.
After the 2003 EPA decision1, horticulturally focused authors and agriculture enthusiasts began to warn gardeners of the risk of using CCA treated lumber for gardening purposes.Similarly, Gateway Greening does not use CCA treated lumber for its gardens, urban farm, or other civic greening projects.
Lumber after CCA
In the aftermath of the 2003 EPA decision1, the lumber industry developed several alternative treatments which provided the same level of decay resistance as CCA treated lumber, without using arsenic or chromium.
Gateway Greening uses the Lifewood brand of lumber which is treated with micronized copper azole. According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory, Lifewood’s copper azole treatment “is comprised of 96-percent copper and 4- percent tebuconazole,” a fungicide (5) (6).
The Lifewood brand was the first lumber treatment brand to be certified by the Scientific Certification System (SCS) as an “Environmentally Preferable Product,” meaning that it meets qualifications for this environmental certification based on an independent life cycle assessment (7). (The qualifications to receive this certification can be explored on the SCS’s website (8)). Products that receive Environmentally Preferable Product certification have been independently assessed to verify that the product is better for the environment than the prevailing, similar products (8)). Products that receive Environmentally Preferable Product certification have been independently assessed to verify that the product is better for the environment than the prevailing, similar products.
The copper azole lumber treatment is considered to be a safe choice for raised vegetable beds. University of Missouri Extension states that copper azole is as safe for raised beds as a similar type of wood treatment, known as ACQ, and confirms, “exposure to copper from contact with ACQ-treated wood is not expected to have adverse effects on the health of adults or children” (9).
While it is a known fact that some amount of copper and the fungicide tebuconazole will leach from the lumber into the soil over time, this happens at such low levels it is not considered dangerous. In fact, copper azole treated wood is actually suggested by Iowa State University Extension for use in raised vegetable beds (10).
The use of Copper in Lumber Treatments
Copper is a common component of treated lumber because of copper’s antifungal properties (2)(9). Copper’s antifungal nature helps to prevent fungus from colonizing and decomposing wood, allowing treated lumber to last longer than untreated lumber.
Although there is a fair amount of copper in Lifewood brand lumber, the life cycle assessment of the product states,
Wood products treated with the Osmose MicroPro process result in the release of 90% to 99% less copper into aquatic and terrestrial environments when compared to standard treated wood products. The very small amount released bonds readily to organic matter in the soil and becomes biologically inactive, thus effectively eliminating eco-toxic impacts (11).
In short, although there is more copper in the copper azole lumber it actually leaches less copper into soil than the CCA treated lumber over time. The small amounts of copper that do leach are soon trapped in the soil, meaning it cannot be taken up by vegetable plants.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have also studied copper leaching while studying CCA treated lumber for use in gardening, and discuss some of their findings in a publication. When discussing potential leaching of arsenic (As), chromium, (Cr) and copper (Cu) from the old CCA lumber, the researchers found that:
When trace elements such as these three are added to soil, most of what is added is not available for plant uptake. Chromium and copper are bound very strongly by soil particles, especially by soil clays and organic matter. They are most strongly bound in near-neutral soils (pH 6–8) and become more soluble in acidic soils (pH less than 5). As a result, Cr and Cu tend not to move in soil, and only a small fraction of what is added to the soil can be taken up by plants (2).
The publication later emphasizes this by stating that gardeners can avoid potential plant uptake of these nutrients by “Maintain(ing) soil pH in the near-neutral range (pH 6–7). Solubility of Cr and Cu is greatly reduced in neutral soils,” and, “Maintain high soil organic matter levels by adding compost or manure. Organic matter strongly binds As, Cr, and Cu and thus reduces their availability to plants,” two things that gardeners typically do as part of their regular gardening efforts (2). Even if some copper is absorbed by plants, Pennsylvania State University states that:
…the human body can tolerate relatively large intakes of Cr and Cu and is also able to excrete excess amounts of these metals. Furthermore, plants are less tolerant of Cr and Cu than humans are. This means that Cr and Cu would kill plants before plant tissue concentrations could get high enough to cause a chronic toxic effect in humans from eating the plants (2).
In summary, research shows that although the copper azole treatment is 96% copper and is known to leach into the surrounding soil:
Leached copper is quickly bound up in clay and organic matter so that it is highly unlikely that garden plants would absorb it.
Copper is far more toxic to plants than humans, meaning that garden plants would die before carrying harmful levels of copper to the dinner table.
Copper is actually an essential nutrient for humans, and our bodies are able to absorb the needed amount, then safely pass any excess.
The use of Fungicide in Lumber Treatments
Like copper, the fungicide tebuconazole is added to copper azole treated lumber in order to prevent fungus from rotting away lumber. More specifically, the fungicide is needed to control certain wood-rotting fungus that copper cannot kill (12).
According to a study done for the European Union, “An accumulation of tebuconazole in soil is not anticipated when tebuconazole is used as a wood preservative” (13). It further states that, “Tebuconazole has a low mobility potential” (13) meaning that the fungicide is unlikely to leach from the treated lumber and into the surrounding garden soil to any significant degree.
Two different studies where tebuconazole was sprayed on the soil surface found that it was readily locked up by the soil during experiments, with most of it staying within 2” of the surface (14). Further research revealed that tebuconazole’s mobility in an agricultural field (as opposed to a controlled laboratory setting) is similarly immobile, though when organic matter is added it becomes more mobile in the soil with most of it remaining within 1-4 inches of the soil surface (15). However, the organic matter also speeds up tebuconazole’s decomposition in the soil so that it has a half-life of only 8-12 days when soil has added organic matter (15).
Although these results are not a perfect analogy because the studies relied on applying tebuconazole directly to the surface of the soil rather than being bound to wood, they do provide a fairly accurate idea of the movement and leaching capabilities of the tebuconazole fungicide used in treated lumber.
Lumber used by Gateway Greening
The treated lumber Gateway Greening uses to build raised beds is only treated with copper and a fungicide tebuconazole. This type of treated lumber results in far less leaching than alternative lumber treatments. The components that do leach are mostly locked up by clay and organic matter in soil meaning it is harder for the plant to absorb it.
Copper becomes even harder for plants to absorb when the soil is a neutral pH, a goal most St. Louis gardeners strive for in order to grow the best possible vegetables.
It is also harder for plants to absorb copper if organic matter (compost) is added, which gardeners in the St. Louis region typically do in order to promote healthy vegetable production.
If a plant does absorb copper, the plant would die before it could absorb enough to be dangerous for human consumption. Even if someone were to eat a plant that has absorbed copper, and the copper had moved into the edible parts of the plant, the human body is adapted to get rid of excess copper – an essential element in the human diet.
Lumber treated with tebuconazole is not expected to release worrisome amounts of the fungicide into the soil given that it is found in the wood and in the soil immediately next to it only. Even when the fungicide was sprayed on the soil surface during testing trials, most of the fungicide only moved 1-4” down when soil was properly amended. However, amendments sped up the breakdown of the fungicide.
Why not use Untreated Wood or Cedar?
Many ask about “natural” alternatives to treated wood, or ask why we do not just use untreated wood or naturally rot-resistant wood like cedar. While we technically could use “natural” alternatives, there are several key reasons why Gateway Greening recommends the treated option instead.
The main reason we do not use untreated lumber is because the most readily available untreated lumber is pine, which is a softwood and rots very quickly. Researchers at the University of Georgia report that, “pine has almost no resistance to rot or insects and has a very short life when used in direct contact with soil” (16).
Untreated hardwoods like oak are more rot-resistant but have their own drawbacks. Firstly, only the heartwood of lumber is resistant to rot, with the sapwood of even rot-resistant species being just as susceptible to rot as the sapwood of the more rot-prone softwoods (1). So for woods like oak to be longer lasting than pine you need to make sure you are buying lumber that doesn’t contain sapwood. It is also generally difficult to find those harder woods in sizes good for raised beds and they are significantly more expensive than treated pine, and “based on most research, provide only slightly more rot and insect resistance than pine” (16).
By far the favorite wood material for those trying to avoid all treatment processes is western red cedar. Although cedar is a great wood if you are trying to avoid all treatment it is still not ideal for Gateway Greening’s school and community garden programs. The biggest reason is cost. Cedar boards usually cost four to five times more than treated pine. This much greater cost would reduce the number of gardens Gateway Greening currently serves by 75%.
In addition to the upfront cost, despite cedar’s rot-resistant nature, it still has a shorter lifespan than treated lumber when in contact with soil (17). Researchers at the University of Georgia report that fence posts made of treated pine can last up to twice as long as western cedar. Even comparing the best case for cedar to the worst case for treated lumber, the treated lumber still lasts longer (17). Although a fence post isn’t exactly the same as a raised bed it does give a good idea of how the different woods will respond to being in constant contact with soil and regional weather conditions.
We hope that we have been able to address and alleviate many of the concerns gardeners often voice at the use of treated lumber in local community garden projects. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to our staff to ask questions!
Gateway Greening youth educators have been working in local schools for the last five years, coordinating with teachers to get children outside and working in the garden. Through their work with local teachers, the Gateway Greening education team quickly realized that a curriculum that paired current education standards and outdoor lessons was needed.
Building on the five years of working with K-5 teachers and strengthening the life science focus of the program, the Gateway Greening education team launched its revamped curriculum program, Seed to STEM, in the Summer of 2016.
What is Seed to STEM?
Gateway Greening youth educators are working with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Saint Louis Public Schools science curriculum to ensure that lessons developed in the garden are not merely “extra activities.” Instead, the Seed to STEM curriculum provides classroom teachers an opportunity to meet their curricular goals while also taking their students outside and engaging in hands-on learning activities.
School gardens are valuable outdoor classrooms and living laboratories. Children do not yet have the life experiences that allow them to incorporate new information that they hear or read into their understanding of the world the way that adults do. This is why it is critically important that students get their hands dirty. As educators, we want students to touch, feel, manipulate, and observe their surroundings with their own senses so that when the students encounter more abstract information, they have experience to “hang” it on. School gardens are cost-effective spaces in which to offer that experience.
What does that experience look like for St. Louis students? When lessons are taken outside to the garden, students are asked to talk about habitats, hypothesize what part of the soil they would most likely find worms in based on what they know about habitats, and test their hypothesis by finding the worms. Another lesson may find students tipping over the logs in their garden’s stump circle to find what is living underneath.
Teachers often ask their students to measure the growth of the crops, comparing the growth of plants in the sun to plants growing in the shade, and connecting those measurements back to a photosynthesis lesson in the classroom. There’s a lot to be said for learning about food webs and, if we are really lucky, watching a hawk nab a squirrel in the middle of a garden lesson. Or, somewhat less dramatically, watch the parasitoid wap larva kill a caterpillar.
An “All-Inclusive” Curriculum
In addition to the rich environment that a school garden can offer for the life sciences, it is also a place to draw in any of the other subjects or skills taught in St. Louis schools. Math and language arts are a particular favorite with teachers and are regularly incorporated into outdoor lessons in the school garden.
One of the most important lessons explored in the school garden is social-emotional skills; using the school garden as a space to practice the skill of “[p]aying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally: (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4). This spring Gateway Greening youth educators have been working with Eli Horowitz, a Washington University Brown School student, to work on mindfulness in the garden.
During a mindfulness lesson, students may be asked to focus on the feeling of their breath entering and leaving their body, or the feeling of the breeze on their skin. This practice helps children (and adults) develop better self-regulation, relieve anxiety, and improve concentration. These mindfulness practices are also a transferable skill that can be useful in making scientific observations.
Gateway Greening youth educators are currently working with classroom teachers at four Saint Louis Public Schools to align lessons with both the growing season calendar and the academic calendar, building a Seed to STEM curriculum that any teacher in the St. Louis region will be able to access and adapt to their school garden.
Written by Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager.
Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.
Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:
Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educatorspage to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
Check out our In the School GardenYoutube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.
Gateway Greening Urban Farm Manager Rachel Deffenbaugh, teaching harvesting techniques to City Seeds Therapeutic Job Training ’16 clients. Photo Credit Deer Hart Photography.
Dear Gateway Greening Community,
It has been my sincere pleasure to work with you for the last 6+ years. I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Gateway Greening in 2010 and in 2011 I became the Farm Manager for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. I have grown and evolved, along with the scope of my position. As of February 27th 2017, I am transitioning to manage the Therapeutic Horticulture program at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
This change is bittersweet for me. I am excited for the new opportunities and challenges that will be afforded to me at the Missouri Botanical Garden. However, Gateway Greening has been a formative and inspirational place to work. It will always hold a place in my heart and I hope to maintain a strong relationship with the organization and the people involved.
Genuinely, thank you for making my time with Gateway Greening a valuable and impactful experience.
Gateway Greening’s primary goal is to promote community development through its various programs and, in my role as a Youth Educator, I get to witness our organization’s mission come to life.
As a youth educator, I work with schools and teachers. Instead of handing them lessons and lesson plans, I work with them and their students and we learn together how to use the school garden as a tool for education. In this process of learning outdoors, we grow a garden and we use this as a tool to grow our community.
Yesterday, I was at Mallinckrodt School Garden dropping off the plants that Bill Ruppert, of National Nursery Products, had donated to Mallinckrodt Academy. During his visit to this school garden in April, Bill received a tour from a bunch of excited students. These students were so proud of their pollinator garden bed and thoroughly highlighted the purpose of these plants in their garden.
Bill noticed that they were in need of more pollinator plants and happily donated hundreds of dollars worth of plant material to fill in their sparse pollinator beds.
As I was unloading these plants at Mallinckrodt School Garden, a neighbor named Silvio Angeli stopped by. He wanted to see if we needed any tomato plants. He is an avid home gardener and lives a couple of houses down from the school garden and had some extra that he wanted to share with us. I was thrilled not at the prospect of acquiring the tomato plants but for the hope of gaining one more stakeholder. I told Silvio we would love to have the tomato plants. He not only gave us those plants but also turned over the bed and got them in the ground.
Gateway Greening’s community gardens not only grow food but also helps people build relationships. It is these relationships that slowly strengthen our community. There are many ways to support community gardening in St. Louis. Be sure to reach out to a Gateway Greening community garden next to where you live (map) and offer your talent or volunteer with us.
St. Louis will look very different if we all find a small way to invest back in our community and build meaningful ties and relationships with our neighbors.
Thank you Bill Ruppert and Silvio Angeli for your contribution to Mallinckrodt School Garden, a Gateway Greening project. We look forward to seeing you soon.