Just for Organization

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Enloe Food Ark: State Fair Garden Contest for Hunger!

School + life + The Food Ark = love + movement + progress + busy-ness

With that equation, I must make a conspicuous observation... I haven't posted in ages! But we must remember that "No Posts =/= No Progress". Check out The Food Ark's Facebook Page to see what we have been up to! www.facebook.com/thefoodark

Hard work does pay off. Right now, we have surpassed the 100 student mark in our club, which has only been active for less than 2 months. With a growing body and a growing voice, we will surely be able to move forward.

Here is a video from UNC-TV of one of our "Outreach Events" this year. We entered into the State Fair Garden Contest! Spoiler alert: We got 3rd place!

Less than 5 months in the making... and already a TV sponsor! I can't believe it. Correction: I can. Let's keep moving.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Communtiy Food Lab x Enloe Food Ark (Book Creation!)

July 22nd, 2014, brought a new collaboration for The Food Ark (my club at Enloe) with the Community Food Lab. The purpose of such a meeting/workshop was to gather thoughts and ideas about a new booklet that the company is publishing soon in their Open Food Booklet Series. Before we get into the details, I would just like to thank everyone who was involved in this collaboration, from start to finish, for creating and providing us this opportunity to come out and share our ideas. Hopefully, being students and parents, we were able to help The Community Food Lab drive their content in the favored and imminent direction of success with sharing our perspectives. I believe that attacking the problem tactfully will benefit everyone in the long-run, and I hope every single participant was able to help give beneficial insight.

Now... excuse me, Ching? What problem are we attacking here?

The answer to that question is: the profligacy of unhealthy foods in schools.

And the simple solution to the problem is.... well... there isn't one; for "The road is not paved" (phrase that came up in a previous meeting with the Community Food Lab and Mr. Small).


Following my friend and fellow Food Ark adherent, Celia, I stepped through the entrance of the door and into the creative compound (as described in article 1, and 2) where the Community Food Lab lives and grows. Already, I see that two of my other Food Ark members, Sabrina and Daniel, are here chatting and laughing with the others who were there. I sighed in relief and shock, both of which quickly subsided; who am I to think that Sabrina and Daniel, of all people, would be apprehensive about mingling? As soon as I greeted Mr. Maurice Small, Mr. Erin White, Ms. Laura Miller, and the others who were already there, including Ms. Jamison and her son (I will publish a post about <-- very very soon!), the last member, Justin, of that night's group representing my club entered. Another sigh of relief. FYI, this is the second official "Event" that my club has participated in - the first was the cucumber gleaning - so I was still getting the hang of how to actually go about opening up the "Food" community. One step at a time!

That is exactly what Erin did with the workshop. After everyone had arrived, we walked over to the meeting area and each person occupied a comfy little chair. Erin introduced himself, what grade he was going into (his response was very clever: "I sometimes feel super knowledgeable like a graduate student, but other times, I feel like I'm still trying to figure it out, like I'm in kindergarten."), and his favorite fruit (mango; about 4 people said that their favorite fruit was mango). Everyone followed his lead, revealing deep and dark secrets. Of course my father was the one to innovate by misunderstanding "fruit" for "food" so he said that he used to love fanta and twinkies, but after being enlightened with healthy food, he now loves freshly baked bread and watermelon. His response was what the whole booklet is supposed to be about: how to show people that unhealthy foods are bad and healthy foods are the right way to go (in all different aspects from physical benefits to financial benefits) and how to make sure those people stay on the healthy train for the long-run.

The students hard at work!

We were given these long sheets of paper after our introduction and we were asked to write down where we can find "food" in terms of learning about food and health, to where "food" should be. I wrote down everything from textbooks, to posters, and from school gardens to trashcans. Textbooks because students, the next generation, should know how to eat and what to eat to live a successful and healthy life. Posters because if textbooks fail to attract the eye of a busy and/or lazy student, posters are concise and appealing enough to give that student a lesson within 10 seconds of looking at it. School gardens because I know people who believe that cucumbers are not grown but made and that, my friend, needs to be changed; and what better way of doing it than to let everyone experience the cycle of food first-hand? Trashcans because everywhere ranging from school cafeterias to home kitchens, perfectly edible and good food is wasted. That food can go to feed those who do not have the luxury of throwing away our precious resources (That should be everyone because everyone should be aware of the fact that wasting anything will come back to "haunt" them in all sorts of ways - economically, physically, environmentally. It is, on a rudimentary level, karma.). We were then asked to partner with the person sitting next to us to go over what each other has - comparing and contrasting. I was surprised that I forgot all about where we actually BUY the food that fuels our bodily mechanisms! Supermarkets, farmer's markets, convenience stores! What they have and how they place their food influences the buyer! Erin brought up the good point that that is why most stores stack their checkout counters with the junkiest things out there. Convenience + tastefulness. What more do people want??

Parents engaging in activities

Students hard at work 2.0

Pictured: Celia, Daniel, Justin (me in the background ;))


Collaboration 2.0

Collaboration 3.0

What do we have??

Connecting all the food-related places to one another!

After the short exercise, it was time for sharing. The students automatically went to the idiosyncrasies of cafeteria food: how bad it is for your health, how easily accessible it is, how processed it is, how weird it tastes (3 notes: salty, sweet or oily), etc. They also brought up the need for schools to implement organic foods, no GMOs, and health classes that actually enforce health rather than have you blindly memorize boring facts for tests, as well as school gardens. The adults, on the other hand, focused more on healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods and how to get everyone to switch from a soda a meal to fruits and veggies three times a day. All in all, we must all remember that each and every person has their own perspectives that are shaped from their own experiences and backgrounds.

Giving our inputs on the booklet so far

Sabrina trying to explain why the character has a head of broccoli for his/her nose (it was amusing)

Just a bit of what we came up with in terms of our perspectives

I won't go into too much detail about the booklet, because it comes out soon (early fall!) however, I will tell you what it is aimed to do.

We have seen in everywhere from reality to movies that people have this weakness when it comes to junk food. How can we, as people who believe that healthy food should be more highly prioritized, "convert" others to adopt the ways of the future? Well, we cannot, because the decision of conversion is ultimately up to that person. But what we can do is to try to persuade them using sturdy facts supporting that converting to a healthier lifestyle permanently benefits THEM in every aspect of life: physicality, mentality, financially, socially, etc. The booklet will appeal to people of all ages and will be a game-changer if put into the hands of the administration. This way, students and parents can see the merit of living healthily in school and at home. Let's change the game.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enloe Food Ark: Gardening Pt.1

After vs. Before

Well we've all been through transformations in our life: whether it be in personal style, eating habits, grades, makeup, attitudes, perspectives, etc. But yesterday, 7/28/14, a crew of 6-8 people tackled the wild and untamed Enloe garden that was passed down to me and my club, The Food Ark, from Concert and Mr. Brent Miller. I wished not to leave you suspense to see the final reveal, so I have placed the "After Vs. Before" picture in such a way that it would be the very first thing that catches your eye in this post. Now, you can really see the difference, eh? 2 hours and a very enthusiastic work crew surely makes conspicuous progress.

I know... I warned you...

Monday morning sure is sluggish so walking down the halls of Enloe, my current high school, with my work crew of 3 other students - Celia, Daniel, and Molly - I continuously warned them about what they will see, just to save them from shock. Looking back, I think just letting their bodies fill with shock and voraciousness to get started would have been completely plausible, however, there is a risk that they will see such a challenge and not be inclined to hurdle over the large gap of getting started. In all actuality, I'm more than satisfied with the progress and hard work that my group put in! It was more than I could have ever imagined.

Thinking about using the fences as a lateral surface... Got to get approved by Wake County for that to work though...

After a brief introduction and pep talk, we started getting down to earth (I'm full of puns, hahaha). Everyone knelt down at once on both sides of the strip of weedy land and started yanking those stubborn monsters out of the land. Stress-reliever = weed pulling. That really got everyone to start going at it harder. Hey, might as well get all the stress out now than to have it pile up inside you during the school year! Always thinking ahead.

Within 30 minutes, we cleared half of the garden of weeds. You surprised? 23ft x 7 ft cleared in just half an hour? I'm not. The group worked in perfect synchronization without a word to be said beforehand about teamwork. It was glorious. Each person would make their own little/huge pile of pulled out weeds and then after a pile grew to become a 2ft cube, one person would come around to each pile and pick it up and throw it over the fence. I know what you're thinking; it's not littering... just simply... fertilizing the ground below :). Once again, making use of everything.

As we picked, we noticed that there were still vegetables hiding inside the monstrosity of a weed bed that we violently plucked at. We discovered Romain Lettuce, Okra, Jalapeno Peppers, Green Bell Peppers, Raspberries and an exotic Chinese plant that was unknown to us at the time because it just began sprouting. We decided to leave it there in hope to have some nice delicacy to top our dishes with in the future.

The only place that we didn't need to touch due to the pristine condition it was already in was this area. As you can see, on the bottom left hand corner of the picture, there's an abundance of Rosemary bushes and neighboring it is lots and lots of mint. A couple of the students who came with us didn't know that there was such plants on this earth. The other student and I each took hand fulls of mint in between breaks and popped them into our mouths to act as natural refreshers. To be honest, I'm nothing close to being knowledgeable about growing plants. I have just done a bunch of research about the properties of such plants for health purposes but I am in no means an expert on the dissemination and budding of plants so I'm glad that there are other students who are apart of my club who already are very experienced in this field. And of course, there's Maurice Smalls, my mentor, who brought his son with him to garden, more like tidy up, with us!

The final product! We added a layer of mulch to the garden, but now, looking back, I believe that wasn't the smartest idea due to the fact that the mulch that we used was the leftover treated/painted mulch used for flower gardens and landscaping. Think about the chemicals in the mulch from the paint seeping through the plant, and because the plant performs osmosis imagine it then hiding in the fruits that we harvest later to eat. Then imagine the same nasty and toxic chemicals making their way through our mouth down into the stomach and being absorbed either by the stomach or the small intestines where it will then make its way into our bloodstream and cause mutations to the cells that the chemical-contained blood feeds. Well, now you have certain diseases that you should not kid with like cancer stacked up fighting against your body. That's scary. Well, my lecture is over (not ever over) about that. That's why organic is so important and healthy. These plants will not be classified as "organic" if I keep the mulch sitting there. AHHHHHHH!!

Now enjoy a series of relaxing photos after reading the above, frightening, paragraph. :)


Luckily, we have another gardening/cleanup day coming our way in the very near future so we can fix the mulch problem. This time, we will be tackling the courtyard and the existing but abandoned greenhouse.

We all make mistakes. But how we react to them determines success or failure. But if the path you took turns out to have the latter as the destination, success will be determined by how you react to failure.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Longview High School's Horticulture Program

It was that time of year, when time was catching up with the speed of the full bloom of fruits in all aspects from food to schools. Students world-wide were getting cases of "senioritis", the lack of motivation to perform with vigor in school, final exams were in their braking distance (alluding to driving because I just finished Driver's Ed), and of course, the fruits on our trees and the vegetables in our gardens were in full ripeness. Longview High School had the perfect gallery of such beauty; too bad Enloe doesn't have one...yet.

The man behind the horticulture program is Mr. Patrick Faulkner. Through a decade of research and trial and error, he has gotten Longview's garden to look like this:

The classroom was filled with a bunch of neat tools. In the far right, you can see a big machine that is used to grow the plants and prepare them for outside conditions (like plant daycare!).

Whoops, that isn't a garden, it's Mr. Faulkner's classroom. This is where the preparation for magic happens. We started out tour here.

Longview is an alternative high school, a program that is essential, that basically, provides students with the "second chance" that they deserve. What stood out to me first when meeting Mr. Faulkner was his perpetual passion for his teaching, the students, and horticulture. He said that through his class, students were able to get "down to earth" and really connect with a part of them that they never knew was there. Some of his former students went on to attend colleges and some even went to create and run their own businesses with the skills they learned from his horticulture classes and teachings. That's quite amazing, especially due to the fact that these students, who once needed correction, overcame their situations and succeeded! Now that, I call, is pure dedication and perseverance. Think about how the world would be if everyone could do that: step back and analyze the situation at hand and then change it to suit their aspirations and their potential. Unfortunately, I believe that the only thing stopping anyone from achieving their dreams is their ignorance - not knowing their own potential.

Pictured: Mr. Faulkner tending his plants!

 We walked outside, passing huge piles of soil and mulch to reach this lovely greenhouse.

Mr. Faulkner showed us around the greenhouse, which was absolutely beautiful!

The tilapia feeds the plants and the plants feed the tilapia.

I have never seen this technique, aqua-tonics, done before. I have known of the science behind it, the about 20 tilapia in the bottom tank producing waste that is then circulated to the plants above as fertilizer, but have never seen it done so fluently before! The plants, that I believe consists of mint and other herbs, flourish under these conditions, as you can tell.

 These plants, that the class grows, are soon going to go out for sale in yard sales. Perfect way for anyone to get a feel of the business-side of gardening.

This is a composting technique that uses mushroom grains.
Around the other side of the greenhouse starts the outdoor gardening space.

 I've never thought of using marigolds and flower beds around the garden to ward off predators by producing flowers that attract bees... Thanks Mr. Faulkner for the tips!

Raised beds really aid the plants to grow healthily.

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a program that IFFS does. Longview has turned into an outreach hotspot for local organizations!

Veggies for days

Communication is key! Look how much space they have and look at how well they utilize the sun and the space!

Strawberries + irrigation system
Strawberries get their own little space :)

When in doubt, grow vertically! Pictured: muscadines

Bond-fire place where the anyone can rest under the shade when tending the gardens. So clever.

Compost area!

Raised beds, again!

To top it off... the season's harvest!
It goes to say that passion and resources produce great results. Thank you, Mr. Faulkner, for showing us around your wonderful garden. Keep changing lives!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Walking the walk has never be easier (MISC.)

My family is huge in organic foods, healthy eating, and efficiency. Having a background in farming, when my parents lived in China, just adds to the lifestyle of utilizing every conspicuous nuance in an organism. Nature should never be dubbed as futile.

My grandparents were the landscapers when we moved to our "new" house a little over 10 years ago, so our backyard has been turned into an Asian garden fiesta. I believe the only thing that we had to actually purchase were the seeds, tools, pots and some wires to act as blockades to the unremitting little rabbits and deer. The rest was gathered by my grandparents from neighboring home-construction dumping sites: rocks to pave paths, wood to build wooden beds, the home-made shed, poles for vines, and string and nails to secure everything together. Other people's trash becomes my grandparents' treasures. I believe that our garden is the DIY heaven. However, 10 years really does something to a garden; now, grass and greens have penetrated our paved paths, making it seem like a camouflaged road, the vines have climbed all over the wires we hooked from tree to tree, draping down like miniature weeping willows covering a canopy every spring, the tree branches my grandparents braided have morphed into compliance, but most of all, the weeds have proliferated since the stop of constant care. But still, I'm very glad that the Japanese beetle epidemic has died down so now I can eat my Chinese cucumbers knowing that we did not use any pesticides. I love our garden. Nature has taken over and beautified it even more.

Nature struck again when this year, I found that our main "canopy" had a new species on it. It was the lilac/lavender flowers that I see everyday coming to and from school on the highways. After my vines suffered a week or so of lavender colored invasions, my grandparents finally spoke of the flower's faint familiarity. All along, it was the same flower that my grandparents picked and ate back in their village in Northern China. The manifestation of purple only lasted for another week before we ate it clean.

Look at what Nature has brought us here!

Closer look! Looks venomous? Just kidding! It isn't!

Chomp Chomp Chomp. Done!

To tell you the truth, I didn't like to eat it one bit. Something so vibrant in color should have a stronger taste than... tastelessness! But nevertheless, I still held my breath and ate it, knowing that it was organic and exotic, characteristics my taste-buds crave (even though my mind was confused by the aforementioned point). My point is that there is no excuse for people to be hungry because, look around, everywhere has the potential to grow food. I was enlightened by this point at my first meeting with Maurice; he turned around and pointed to the school roof and said, "we can grow food there!" then he turned back around and pointed to the semi-empty parking lot and said, "and there!" Nature has made the places capable of growing food almost, if not completely, ubiquitous. We must be open to this potential and embrace the number of possibilities we can gather and implement.


My grandparents were at it again with their creativity. This time, they found several mulberry trees on the side of a road, one day, and decided that they would take some berries home and grow their own mulberry trees. Sounds, like possibilities for them are imminent, no? Well, all I have to say is that they take advantage of everything around them. I admire their ability to recognize that everything has potential. This is how I work and think, now.

With my grandparents back in China, my father there as well for a business trip and my sister at school (NCSSM!), our flourishing mulberry trees had no tenders. So, my mother and I decided to take on the roll. My mother was outside for a while before I joined her and she already had this much picked:
Simultaneously picking and eating! Talk about a multitasking mind and body cleanser.

She only went around picking the ones closest to the ground... we weren't even 1/3 done...

2 Mulberry trees = a LOT of work. Oh how much we needed to know about Espalier when we planted these!

Deliciously juicy... all natural!

Blend 2cups of freshly picked mulberries and 2-3 ice cubes and you have yourself the sweetest natural smoothie you have ever tasted!

There was a tiny bug crawling along the bowl before I snapped this pic... must have carried it in from the picking! But hey, bugs have a ton of protein so... bon appetit!

Just one hour and one tree produced a couple day's worth of fruit for our fruit devouring family! Now, that compares to the average week's intake, I'm guessing, which is a LOT! The sad part was that when I went to NC State for AP Exams in the beginning of May, when mulberries become the juiciest, there were mulberry trees around every corner I walked. Why is that sad? No one was picking them! All the juicy and anti-oxidant rich fruit were going to waste just like that! As I walked, I counted about 5 of them. Passing under each one, I winced every time my shoe crushed and squished an innocent and nutritious berry. If just one hour and one tree could satiate a family for a week, think about 5 hours for each of the 5 trees! That's 25 families! Sigh...


 Remember that huge snowstorm that kept school and work out for a week? Well, there were several this year, which was very odd for NC, but I'm talking about the one in February. Fine, almost all were in February, but this section of this post is about the snow storm that happened around Valentine's Day.

This was the week that Fencing Junior Olympics, in Portland, took place. The night, around 11PM, before it started snowing, my mother made a split-second decision to get me on a plane the next morning so I won't get snowed in. All I can say that, with pure luck and a mother's incisive intuition, my father and I were able to snag 2 seats on the first and almost the last flight out of RDU. We made it to Portland safely. Unfortunately, my mother got stuck coming back from work that day for 5 hours and my sister was stranded for a couple days at school in Durham.

When I got to the Portland Greater Convention Center, one of the first things that I noticed, other than the magnificent architecture, were these bad boys. Now, looking back at this picture, I know exactly what Justin from CompostNOW was talking about with the 3 cans. I examined it's beauty and compactness and pure genius architecture and utility. At this time, I was setting my mind on wanting to integrate trash bins like these into schools, so this was a prime example for me to emulate.

Portland, Oregon, is surely developing in the right direction. Come on NC!

Why don't we have these bins in NC? Why not all over the world? I mean, I first came into contact with this concept when at Whole Foods, and now this, so why is it taking so long for people to catch onto this needed trend? Slowly but surely we can do this. Think about it: schools with compost bins next to the trash and recycling bins, planes, convention centers, businesses, restaurants, parks, trains, transportation stations!

Hopefully, you have gotten this far... long post, I know. But I feel that it is necessary for us, especially as living beings in a society that needs some work, to look around and notice patterns, notice all the possibilities around us and notice the lack of food infrastructure (not only food!) we have right now. "Food" isn't in the form of what is on our plates every breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner, and dinner, it is a cycle: from the ground and trees, to the factories (sigh... processed food.............), to the stores, to our cars, to our refrigerators and pantries, to our recipes, to our plates, to our trash bins (should be compost bins), to our landfills, etc. What we have right now is all we need to get started. We just have to make everyone else more aware of the fact that anything is possible and issues like these are only changed with inspiration, motivation, dedication, and concentration.