A few years ago the children at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod school grew, harvested and, ultimately, ate a giant, two-pound carrot.
The organic gardening program at the school has come a long way since then. They now have a unheated green house and a program where middle school gardeners lead first through fifth graders as they learn to build soil, plant, transplant, tend, water and harvest food year round. The harvests have transformed by the school chef into amazing meals served at lunch.
The summer tending of the garden is a community responsibility. There are weekly Family Gardening sessions organized according to grade level where families share a pot luck meal and then work together in the garden in the cool of the evening.
The 24 by 48 feet green house is the heart of the gardening program. It is an indoor gardening classroom that aligns the school year with garden life by spreading the harvest over four seasons. Since it is unheated, the chosen crops are winter crops such as carrots, spinach and kale that grow when the nights are very cold and the days are slightly warm. A sunny day in February can bring temperatures in the 20s outside and in the sixties in the green house. The night lows in the green house can go into the teens or 20s, Yet, since the soil is warmed by the sun during the day, the soil in the beds never freezes. The inspiration for the growing methods we use comes from Eliot Coleman who has written books about growing in four seasons .
The spring green house harvests are substantial. They have early strawberries, bushels of spinach and baby kale, lots of chives and parsley and snow peas. The plastic roof is removed for the summer months to avoid overheating.
While every student in the school devotes some time each year to growing lunch, each year the third graders are the weekly farmers. They are in charge of turning lunch scraps into compost in the tumbling composter. And, the new-this-year worm bed in the green house creates vermicompost with the help of thousands of earth worms.
Kim Allsup, garden co-ordinator says “I am continually awed by the energy and engagement children pour into all aspects of gardening. Our local newspaper made a video about the giant carrot that shows their tremendous enthusiasm”
This week the class is studying botany and specifically the growth of seeds by tucking seeds between the wall of a clear plastic tub and a few layers of wet paper towels. Kim gave the class permanent markers so they could write their own names on the tubs. Soon she realized that the quart containers were covered with more than their own names. They had given each seed a name: Poseidon, Zeus, Heidi! Now, each morning, we hear delighted exclamations, “One of our beans has sprouted! Heidi has a root!” “We have a sprouted leek seed. You have to look quite carefully to see it.” This is a hands-on exploration of monocotyledons (the leek is an example) and dicotyledons (the bean is an example). The children are learning those terms and what they mean. But, even more vital is that they are given the opportunity to celebrate life. This part of the lesson does not need to be taught. It just rises up from within them, as naturally as the rising of the sun, as irrepressibly as the sprouting of the bean seed.
We seem to be a culture that is anxious about whether our children are learning enough, learning soon enough, learning exactly the right information. But, in the end, it is enthusiasm and care for life and learning that will carry them. Who can list with any certainty all of the facts, understandings and skills our children will need to possess twenty, thirty and forty years from now? Certainly, they will need to assimilate much that we cannot even imagine.
Why teach gardening? To help children make good food choices? Yes. To learn about botany? Yes. To bring healthy exercise into the school day? Yes. To give children an understanding of the work behind their food? To teach them how to grow their own food ? Yes. But, most of all, we need to grow with children in order to fuel their natural enthusiasm for life.
Credits: Growing Children