These carrots and this garden scene may look like any other, and it is like every school garden. We have a small square of earth, vegetables and perennial fruits growing, and most importantly kids coming to the garden for goodness.
And maybe there is something more that makes our little square stand out.
Two springs ago, a group of Juniors, Seniors, and a few Sophomores reclaimed their abandoned school garden space. When we first started working this little square of the schoolyard, it was full of weeds with a few beautiful tulips poking through in the early spring to remind us that something was still there.
After scraping together resources, we brought in a load of compost, cuttings from a small neighborhood co-op (twenty miles away), and then we put our hands back in the soil.
The Seniors who had helped reclaim the space graduated and went off to college. The Juniors who had originally helped became busy Seniors and the garden was once again quiet. I continued going to the garden each week on Wednesdays, hoping some of the youth would want to get their hands back in the soil with me.
A few did. Most became too busy.
One day, I happened to be there during middle school lunch recess and one young woman came up to me and asked, “what are you doing?” I replied that I was taking care of the plants that will give us food. She asked me, “Is this your garden? Can I help?” My response, "Yessssss, and this is your garden. It's for the kids that want to be here growing food. I'm just here to help." And that was it, after that day every Wednesday became Garden Science in Action, the garden became busy with kids like a beehive with bees. They water, weed, harvest, plant, talk to each other, ask about where the mint is located, some just say hi, have a hug, or just come to hang in the garden. It became their space when I was there. Sometimes there would be as many as 30 kids zipping around. This wasn’t something that came to be because I, as the adult, had planted some seeds. It was a beautiful weaving of allowing them to claim this space and enjoy it with their desire to know about the all of the plants that were in the garden, or yet to plant. They called themselves the Green Thumb Association.
We gardened all winter, experimenting with a hoop house that we all built together with the precise measurements of our footsteps to measure the lengths. We grew carrots, kale, radishes, spinach, and we ate from our garden in early spring!
As warmer temperatures came, we replanted our garden together with Anthropology students from University of Colorado Denver. Then summer came, and everyone went home. The garden was quiet, except for one Senior that had held his connection to what he had started the year before. Then he went off to college, the school year started again.
The first week of school I couldn't get to the garden to work with them.
The second week of school, I received a text on Tuesday morning from the facilities management that there were some issues with the garden. Some kids had been playing with the water hoses and left it running, the toolbox had been opened and shovels, trash bags, gloves, and tomato cages were thrown everywhere.
I stayed that Tuesday, knowing that our second Wednesday of the year was reserved for yet another meeting I had to attend to. Yet I felt that I needed to connect with them. As I walked up to the little square space one of the youth from the Green Thumb Association came up to me pointing, ‘Hey! You came back! We thought you weren’t coming back! Someone said we couldn't be in the garden!’ Five minutes later the garden was teeming with kids, hugging me, asking me where I had been. “What do I do with the dirt on the carrots? Can I eat the cucumbers? Can I water the plants? Where are the beans?” Then they were pulling carrots from the earth, eating cucumbers they had gently set free from the vine, watering, weeding, searching for peaches-it was our beehive madness! They buzzed around me like we had attracted them with this delicious nectar.
I responded to them like a busy chef in a kitchen and as we worked, I asked if they had seen what happened to the garden? I pointed where the water has been sprayed on the garden bed, eroding a hole in our plot, while I described what I had seen that morning and how the administration was worried that maybe we wouldn’t be able to use the water if this kept happening. The youth around me understood and said they were concerned about how the plants were going to grow if we didn’t water. They also said they would all keep watch over our garden.
They didn’t think I was coming back, they had felt kicked out of the garden space when they thought it was theirs. I wonder how they processed that? I had responded to the first Green Thumb Association Member, “you gave up on me so quick! Have more faith in me!” Wow. What a thing to ask of them. I always came on Wednesday’s and I didn’t show up. How many times had these kids felt that kind of disappointment? The trust I had earned with them all year last year was gone in a week. How do we build and maintain that trust in the communities of youth that we work with? How important is trust? This comes at a time when we are finding that our youth are struggling to trust the institutions that we work within and the society that we live in. (See the article link from Pew Charitable Trust below)
Our work is about building relationships and learning through what we desire to know. We believe that the nectar is our curiosity.
They were so happy to be back in the garden eating, enjoying, and learning. There was something bigger that happened that day, though. While we put our hands in the garden we quickly, we celebrated our harvest of beans, carrots, and cucumbers. We came together, got our hands back into the dirt, and like the bees started working together for a common purpose...the life in our garden.