Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 15, 2013

Mommy, kiddies grow their own food

Class series covers how to create an edible garden

by Carol Blitzer

"We grow food at home!"

That's Robin Mankey's motto and the mantra for the new class she'll be offering for moms and preschoolers beginning next week.

The class, dubbed "Mother, Earth and Me," will take place in six home gardens in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Menlo Park and Atherton. Mankey views the six gardens as a "roaming classroom," with a different topic covered at each location.

"Everyone's going to learn outside their boxes, so to speak — their gardens," Mankey said.

Before beginning the class series, Mankey will make home visits to assess each garden to determine the space required to grow what the participant will want to eat.

"Two families already have raised beds. Some aren't even there," she said.

The first class will take place at Common Ground in Palo Alto so students can check out such necessities as tools, seedlings and compost.

Each week features a new topic: planning the garden, seed propagation, soil preparation, transplanting and spacing, composting, irrigation and troubleshooting.

"During class we might have a chance to dig one garden, plant or transplant in another. I'm a Socratic learner. It's going to be very hands on," she said.

"There aren't a lot of gardening classes available where you can bring kids," Mankey said, adding that a lot of moms are home with kids and are interested in growing food for them.

"Two- to 5-year-olds love being outside. Most kids love getting dirty. They love worms, bugs, butterflies, birds. They're just very engaged," she said.

And their taste buds are curious. "They like eating flowers, lettuce. It's a way for moms of preschool age to create a cohort of moms who love to grow food," she said.

When discussing irrigation, Mankey said, the kids could play with extra parts that are like little LEGOs. "They can pretend to put (them) together."

Mankey started growing food at home when her older daughter, who's now 27, was 3 years old. At the time she was working as a corporate recruiter and executive search consultant, but she always grew food on the side, she said.

When her children were older, she volunteered for years at Hayfields Farm in Portola Valley, as well as working and teaching in school gardens at Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco and John Gill School in Redwood City.

In 2003-5 she studied the Grow Biointensive(c) methods with John Jeavons of Ecology Action in Willits, completing the teacher training.

Three years ago she decided to work with families in their backyards, helping them to install and maintain their gardens through her business, Take Root Now.

As for keeping small children engaged in the classes, Mankey has no worries. She's built up a repertoire of songs — think, "Inch by inch, row by row; going to watch my garden grow" by David Mallett — often featuring worms and spiders.

"I'm going to have dirt, water, seeds, worms," she smiled.

And, of course, there will be snacks.

Mankey will help each participant develop a plan for her individual garden.

A Crescent Park homeowner and mother of four has been working with Mankey to create her family's edible garden since 2011.

"Robin's just got a way with the earth. It's really been a treat to work with her," said the mom, who asked not to be identified due to privacy.

"Our youngest is our least picky eater," she said, which she attributes to early exposure. "She loves nothing more than to come out here and pick her salad and eat it."

Mankey, who calls herself an urban farmer, gets enormous pleasure out of her second career and from encouraging children to grow food.

"The nature of a garden is it's a complete biological system and it's always changing. It engages all the senses. I think we need that as a culture," she said.

This first class series is limited to six families and is taught on a weekday morning. If it fills up, she may offer a second round in May. And, for parents with kids age 3 to 8, she's just added a Saturday class beginning in April.

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What: Mother, Earth and Me gardening classes for preschoolers and parents

When: Thursdays, March 21 to May 1, from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

Where: Six homes in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and Los Altos

Cost: $490 per family, which includes personalized garden assessment, seven classes and a resource binder

Info: 650-561-6054 or www.takerootnow.com

What: Mother, Earth and Me gardening classes for kids ages 3 to 8 and parents

When: Saturdays, April 27 to June 15, from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

Where: Six homes

Cost: $490 per family, which includes personalized garden assessment, seven classes and a resource binder

Info: 650-561-6054 or www.takerootnow.com

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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