Written by Milena Castillo-Grynberg, Food Systems Educator

The last few weeks have been very exciting at Portola: As plastic skeletons and jack-o-lanterns popped up around the neighborhood, student Food Explorers investigated some of the spookier sides of the food system, like poisonous mushrooms, cheese bacteria, and ultra-processed food. The Food Explorers Program is led by EGC’s AmeriCorps Fellow Milena, who is on-site weekly to engage students in curriculum and learning. October saw the first meeting of Portola’s Environmental Engineers, who showed up in great numbers to express their enthusiasm for becoming community leaders in sustainability.

Portola Elementary Student, Volunteers, and Environmental Engineers at a Portola Workday working on garden beds. (October 21st, 2023. Photo taken by EGC Food Systems Educator, Milena).

At Portola’s monthly workday, on October 21st, the garden welcomed around one hundred volunteers, who collectively dedicated six hours of their Saturday to grow this vital outdoor learning space. These volunteers included Portola teachers, parents, students, and an enthusiastic crew from the Nueva School who, despite having no direct ties to the space, came to show their support for this important project. This workday was full of music, laughter, and delicious food, as volunteers worked hand-in-hand to build hugelkultur and pollinator beds, sheet mulch the garden space, and construct and install lattice trellises on the raised garden beds (to the great joy of the climbing peas!) Together, Portola has nurtured a jungle of hearty kale, chard, and peas in a cold, foggy micro-climate that is perfectly suited to green leafy produce. The sheer size of these vegetables is a testament to Portola’s tremendous community spirit and dedication to the garden. Truly inspiring!

Portola Elementary Student, and Volunteers at a Portola Workday working on sheet mulching the garden space. (October 21st, 2023. Photo taken by EGC Food Systems Educator, Milena).


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