a journal of our edible education


Kitchen House Update

Horizons are often difficult to judge.  Sometimes things that seem far away turn out to be just over the next hill while other things that seem to be right at hand wind up being miles away.  So it is with time.  A deadline that seemed an eternity away is suddenly tomorrow and an idea that appeared so far away, surprisingly pops up into view.  The Edible Schoolyard at OJA is experiencing just such: an exciting, long awaited, sudden development. Our team has long believed that our student’s cooking experience could be greatly improved by providing them with a true kitchen classroom.  We have felt that the surrounding community might also enjoy this “seed to table” experience.  We had faith that there were others who share our belief in edible education and would partner with us to create a vision of something new.  This vision is quickly coming into focus in the form of a “kitchen house” and “give back garden”.  An idea that once seemed “miles away” is suddenly on our doorstep.  Through generous partnerships with Florida Hospital for Children and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, we are creating an innovative space where students will be given the opportunity to learn about the source of their food.  These students will also have a hand in growing and preparing that food, which we believe will inspire a healthier and more delicious lifestyle. Here are some architectural renderings provided by our design team partners, Midtown Architecture Studio and Hunton Brady Architects. OJA KITCHEN HOUSE   static.squarespacestatic.squarespace-1Since this project lies on a plot of land across the street from the school our students will not be the only ones able to utilize this facility.  Other schools will be invited to enjoy this space as a field trip destination without any compromise to our own campus routine.


You Had to be There

IMG_1010 IMG_1013It is a challenge to capture in a few words and pictures what our students experienced this last week at our annual Art in the Garden event.  This is the day when several creative members of the community come to our campus to celebrate our pollinator garden and use their skills to engage students in conversations about the creative process.  This year the diversity of talent was remarkable.  When thirteen artists and performers enter a garden it is difficult to predict the variety of expression.  From the silly to the sublime our students witnessed quite the spectrum of artistic interpretation.  All were inspired by the same garden but each told a different story.

Consider the playful picture above.  Few students (and even fewer adults) could resist adding found elements to this rather stoic portrait.  This table provided a steady chorus of laughter all morning.  Contrast that with the  exquisite detail captured in a miniature watercolor and you’ll begin to get the idea.


Students witnessed big splashes of bright acrylic color as well as more subtle brushstrokes of oil paint.  They had interesting discussions about everything from costume design to architectural structure and ornamentation .  Several students had the opportunity to create innovative works inspired by environmental artists like Andy Goldsworthy.  A visiting hive of honey bees displayed their own take on this type of environmental installation. All of this was accompanied by a beautiful flute and rhythmic percussion that gave a heartbeat to this lively morning.  What a thing of beauty it is when so many talented artists come together to inspire and educate the next generation of creative thinkers and doers.


IMG_3656 IMG_3672IMG_3670 IMG_3660

On your mark, get set…….

Here we go again.  The first day of school is a new verse to a very old song.  Pencils are sharpened.  The walls have a fresh coat of paint.  There may even be 64 crayons in the box.  It all seems so new,….. but is it really?  Yes and no.  The thrill/terror of entering a new classroom on the first day is anything but new.   OJA has been doing this for a while and has had over one hundred “first days”, each with its share of excitement.  Because of this, Monday won’t really be the first day of school.  It won’t be new…. and yet it will be.  It will be “new” because it’s a long first walk from the car to the classroom for many of our students (and an even longer walk back to the car for many of our parents) “New” is a big deal.  There’s been a palpable buzz on campus as teachers have prepared their classrooms because “new” is a big deal.  Even the eighth graders, who have been here for a while, recognize Monday’s importance  because “new” is a big deal.  It’s a new chance, a fresh start, a clean slate, but it is, again, an old school.  It’s an old school with a rich culture, one that’s taken years to develop.  Generations of parents, teachers, church members and friends have invested the resources that make OJA what it is today, a place where children are challenged and comforted, a place where excellence isn’t just expected it’s anticipated and celebrated, a place where students are loved.  OJA is an old place that makes “new” a big deal.



Some of the first grapes from our Venetian vines, vines which come from ancient stock.


It’s just like the garden.  (Come on, you knew that was coming.)  Now is the time to start our fall/winter garden with a seed planting blitz.  It’s hard to look at a fresh plot of black soil raked smooth and not think: “clean slate” or hold a tiny seed between your fingers and not think: “brand new” or smell the rain and not think: “fresh start”.  It all seems so new…. but is it really?  The complex history within a handful of our garden soil could be discussed for days.  The seeds that we plant are the inherited product of  generations of farmers and gardeners who selected and saved seeds; each year planting only the best of the previous years crop.  Even the rain has been through countless cycles of condensation and evaporation before falling on our patch.  Gardens are old with a rich culture that’s taken years to develop. Children have been learning to grow food for a very long time, but anytime a child pulls their first carrot out of the ground the whole world seems brand new.  Our garden isn’t new……but it is and “new” is a big deal.

Memory Garden

One of the  universal experiences in this life is the unfortunate pain of grief and loss.  Even children are not spared the sorrow of losing loved ones.  This year has been a difficult one for some of our students.  With this in mind Mrs. Curet’s third grade class thought a memory garden would be a good thing to have on our campus.  A school cannot begin to replace what some children lose through tragedy but we can create a place where fond memories are fostered and cherished.  Our third graders embraced the idea that a special garden space could help those having difficult days.  Just a place to sit and remember could bring comfort.  Of course a garden like this shouldn’t just look peaceful and beautiful, we thought it should smell that way too.  What does a happy memory smell like?  Of course there isn’t just one answer, but when looking for a natural fragrance that can inspire peace and beauty it’s hard to match the flowers of the Plumeria tree.  IMG_3318

Proud Tree Planters

Proud Tree Planters

We thought Plumerias would be the perfect trees to shade students just needing some time to remember.   Most of the third graders had never smelled Plumeria flowers before but after some heavenly sniffs all of them thought this was the perfect smell for a memory garden.  If tranquility has a smell, surely it’s Plumeria.

A Handful of Sunshine

A Handful of Sunshine


“This is what it smells like”

While planting these trees we talked about the value of memories and the importance of making new ones.  Some students were inspired to share a special memories that helped to bring them comfort.  Some were sad. Some were sweet, and one was even funny-

I’ve got Earrings!

I remember when my dad taught me how to catch lizards.  I was 3 years old and I had just had my birthday and my dad said he would teach me how.  So when we got home we went to the backyard dad caught a lizard and showed me how to catch them.  It took a while for me to learn how but eventually I was as good as my dad.  When I was really good, he taught me how to put them on my ears like earrings, but only small ones!  I did not understand why only small ones, it was because the big ones never let go and it hurts, but I learned the hard way!  So I caught a big lizard at school and put it on my ear.  When it finally let go I was bleeding, so I never did that again!


Lizard Earring 1


Lizard Earring

We hope that this garden will remind our students that memories are valuable gifts that we give to each other and that when treasured, they are gifts that we can keep for a lifetime.

Special Guests

The Edible Schoolyard at OJA had a V.I.P. day this week.  The Honorable Mayor Ken Bradley and his wonderful wife Ruth visited  our campus.  Along with Winter Park’s first couple came STUFF the Magic Dragon, mascot for the Orlando Magic basketball team.  The afternoon began with a student rally in the gymnasium, where the Mission: Fit Possible team from Florida Hospital for Children led everyone in rousing nutrition and exercise lesson.  Afterwards, Mayor and Mrs. Bradley along with STUFF toured the garden and the nutritional science lab, harvesting and tasting along the way.  Our students and staff showed them how a garden and a kitchen can be integral to a child’s education and how healthy food can be fun and delicious. 

Mayor Bradley and STUFF visit the Edible Schoolyard (Mayor Bradley is the one wearing a tie.)

Mayor Bradley and STUFF visit the Edible Schoolyard (Mayor Bradley is the one wearing a tie.)

Mayor Bradley sampling the celery.

Mayor Bradley Sampling the Celery.

STUFF in the garden

STUFF in the Garden

A Fresh Feast for a Hungry Dragon!

A Fresh Feast for a Hungry Dragon!

For more pictures visit our “Edible Schoolyard OJA” Facebook page.

Art in the Garden

Once again Orlando Junior Academy celebrated its annual Art in the Garden festival.  This time of year the school’s pollinator garden is a profusion of color and life and the students gather around it to learn about the connection between art and the natural world.  Fourteen volunteers from our community and beyond came to share their talents and encourage a discussion about the process of creativity.  Among the artists represented were: painters, writers, musicians, a landscape architect, an environmental consultant and a performance artist (who became the above “living statue”).  All of these generous artists showed how a garden, through inspiration, can be translated into a unique work of art.  Students came prepared to ask thoughtful questions about creativity and craft and were inspired by the discussions that followed.  OJA continues to be a place where a child’s education is engaging and experiential.  It is also a place that embraces the generosity of its village.

As one of our visiting artists wrote:  “…from the beautiful campus to the amazing food to the warm staff and the close-knit volunteers, OJA students are clearly the beneficiaries of a great deal of hard work, community support, and treat-every-child-like-he’s-your-child affection.  It’s encouraging to me to see the next generation being raised with so much love, and I’m so glad to have gotten the opportunity to see it.”

Thanks to all who made this such a beautiful day.

Painting Sunflowers

Creating their own gardens with the help of a landscape architect

Remember these?

Making Music

Feeling the wind that makes the sound

Discussing pollinators

Falling in love with storybook mice

Our art teacher

Yes, she’s real.


Heritage in the Garden

Orlando Junior Academy is a diverse community that includes students, staff, friends and extended family that have come together to care for and learn from each other.  Each member of this community brings something unique to the table, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  The food garden is a wonderful and appropriate place to celebrate this diversity and see food from a truly global perspective.

Proud dad Emerson Mility

Tuesday in the garden the sixth grade class learned about and planted two food plants with strong cultural traditions.  Their lessons were presented by two gentlemen from very different places. 

 One guest teacher was OJA dad, Emerson Mility.  Mr. Mility comes from the Dominican Republic and has long felt that no garden (including the one at OJA) is complete without sugarcane.  Mr. Mility shared his knowlege about sugarcane and its uses and also advised the students on how to grow a vigorous crop.  He says we should be able to celebrate Christmas with cane juice!

Our other guest teacher was College Park businessman Giovanni Vianello owner of “Let Us Frame It” on Edgewater drive.  Mr. Vianello brought with him stories of his father growing food in the “old country”.  Mr Vianello comes from Venice, Italy where his family has grown grapes for many generations.  The grape plants shown here are actually grown from cuttings taken from the vines at the Vianello homestead and will hopefully provide many generations of OJA students with a taste of Venice.

Grape Enthusiast Giovanni Vianello

Thanks, Gentlemen for giving of your time and sharing your knowledge with us.  You are helping to make our garden and our education truly “world class”.