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Pollinator Pals at the 2024 Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network Conference

People at a table at a conference looking at Pollinator Pals educational materials.
Sam at far end of table, Sara to his right, Ethan on far left, Kristina not pictured

by Sam Inada, Pollinator Educator and Outreach Specialist | AmeriCorps Member

Earlier this month, our Pollinator Pals education program had the opportunity to participate in the AMAZING Oregon Farm 2 School Conference! This is a biannual conference held at Oregon State University in Corvallis with the goal of connecting people in the Farm to School and environmental education communities. This includes classroom teachers, Farm to School educators, food producers, and non-profits like PPRV.

Our team that attended included Ethan Robison, PPRV's Pollinator Pals coordinator; Sara Enriquez, an awesome member of our Education Committee: Kristina Lefever, PPRV’s president and Volunteer Director; and me, Sam, Pollinator Pals AmeriCorps member and Pollinator Educator and Outreach Specialist. On the surface, our education program might not necessarily be Farm to School related, but we found a lot of like-minded people who are also working toward building a happier, healthier future for the next generation, and learned a lot from other people doing amazing work. Plus, native pollinators are essential for many foods that we eat, not just native wildflowers!

The day started with a keynote-presentation from Tahoma Peak Solutions, a Native Women-Owned firm that deals in a wide array of subjects such as Indigenous diversity equity and inclusion, cultural education, and food systems planning. Nora Frank-Buckner, their Director of Food Sovereignty, talked about indigenous foodways, and the possibilities of incorporating native foods into school curriculum. 

Sam – It was a pleasure getting to connect with and learn from a group of people that we would not have had the opportunity to otherwise. We got to see so many different perspectives and insights on what is possible in the classroom.

Afterword, the four of us split up and went to different exciting and educational workshops that addressed a wide array of topics, including cultural sensitivity and inclusivity, how to create an authentic voice as an educator, and bees in Oregon agriculture, which was put on by Andony Melathopoulos, Associate Professor of Pollinator Health Extension at OSU. Throughout the day, we worked alongside other environmental educators, and each workshop gave us something unique to take home with us.

Sara – Interacting with educators was so inspiring and fun. I enjoyed getting new perspectives on both the content and the strategies teachers are using to reach kids.

Our Pollinator Pals Coordinator, Ethan Robison, had the opportunity to share about the work that Pollinator Pals is doing in a 7-minute Lightning Talk. In the talk, he emphasized Pollinator Pals philosophy of getting kids interested in and excited about local plants and pollinators, and how learning about them is the first step in protecting them. The talk was well received, and it seemed like people were excited to see the unique perspective that Pollinator Pals brought to the conference. Sam had his hands full with sharing our Pollinator Scavenger Hunt and Pollinator Count activities with all the teachers in the room. 

Ethan – Seeing so many people interested in our education materials was really inspiring. I'm so happy that Oregon educators are interested in teaching about native plants and pollinators.

Throughout the day, we had a table to share our Pollinator Pals lesson plans, activities, and kits that we have been developing, and got people excited about the idea of incorporating native plant and pollinator lesson plans into their school garden curriculum. We gave away sets of our Pollinator Scavenger Hunt cards and Pollinator Count activities, which Ethan highlighted and shared copies of during his talk.

We had many great conversations at the table, received feedback on lesson plans, learned about other cool things people are doing, and gave people important information and resources on pollinator education that they could take home and implement in their schools. The reception to Pollinator Pals at our table and at Ethan’s Lightning Talk made it clear that Pollinator Pals is contributing something to the school gardens community.

See more photos from the conference in our album here.

The farm to school community does incredible work getting kids in touch with nature, and giving them the tools to live healthy lives, but, because many food crops are nonnative, there is not a lot of emphasis on the native plants that are crucial to our local ecosystems, as well as food systems. We felt lucky to both learn from the farm to school community about things we can incorporate into Pollinator Pals, and also contribute something of value to them. 

Kristina – It was wonderful to see all the energy around creating community to grow healthy food with young people! And really awesome to see the enthusiastic response to the critical pollinator component for our food systems and ecosystems as well!

Going to the conference was a big step for us, and coming back, we are inspired to continue thinking of new ways to help our planet and the next generation.

Thank you to Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and The Carpenter Foundation, as well as United Communities AmeriCorps, for giving us this opportunity to grow alongside our community.

Want to learn more about our Pollinator Pals program? Visit our website here.


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