After about 5 weeks, I feel like the garden education program at my school is finally starting to take off. Teachers and staff know and recognize me, I work steadily with 2 classrooms (hopefully adding more soon!) plus some music classes, and the garden is *mostly* planted and growing. Last week Prentiss and I planted our fall/winter transplants: collard greens (a Southern staple), kale, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, brussels sprouts, and spinach. On Wednesday, my oldest class helped us plant. I showed them how to gently loosen the roots before putting the plants in the ground and covering them fully with healthy black top soil.
Watching how much pride and care each student displayed in handling their plants made me aware of how often adults, including me, underestimate children’s ability to successfully take on responsibility. I’ve noticed this in terms of eating too. A teacher will say “Oh, Daniel would never touch a vegetable,” yet when Daniel learns about the vegetable and helps prepare it, he’ll eat it, leaving his teach flabbergasted. I’m excited to take on more challenging lessons with my classes that empower them to try new things.
One of my favorite lessons so far was making a “roots, fruits, and leaves slaw” with red cabbage, carrots, apples, and raisins. We had just learned about the six different plant parts, so this lesson was meant to tie in that concept while encouraging the kids to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The students helped cut and spiralize our ingredients, prepare the dressing, and then taste the fruits (and veggies) of their labor.
A month ago, this activity would have probably been accompanied by a chorus of “nasty!” and “yuck!,” but throughout the whole class kids were covertly tasting pieces of cabbage and apple peels. Almost all of them finished their entire bowls of slaw. The only negative comment came from one student who exclaimed “this smells like an armpit!” But then I realized…cabbage does kind of smell like an armpit.
Other activities have included making “nature bracelets” with painter’s tape and wildflowers, planting seeds, smelling herbs, measuring the heights of various sprouts, and singing songs about dirt. I’ve also been coordinating with a farmer friend to come to my school later this week to talk to the students about how he grows vegetables and raises animals. He’ll even be bringing some of his silky chickens for the kids to hold and touch. On Saturday, I stopped by the farmers’ market to pick up a big box of his produce so that I can do taste testings ahead of time with the kids. I want them to make the connection between the vegetables and the person who grows them. I’m really going to have to get creative, though; most of the vegetables in season now are varieties of mustard greens, herbs, and radishes, which, while beautiful and tasty, may be a bit of a stretch for some of the students’ palates. BUT, never underestimate, right?