Hunger. Poverty. Obesity. Poor nutrition and yet…an abundance of packaged, processed, preserved, color-added, microwave-ready, squeezable, plastic wrapped “food stuffs,” that seem to suggest a time of plenty even as they offer nothing of value to the human body.
And then there’s no recess or limited recess. And little exercise at home or at school, as kids huddle indoors around screens from dawn to dusk.
To the question, “Where does milk come from?,” kids too often offer the enthusiastic reply, “Plastic cartons.”
What happened to our kids, America?
Whatever it is, it’s not their fault — they’re still great. They’re kids, children, young people.
But what are we offering them?
We say again and again that we want the best for our kids. But what does that look like, really?
We say want our schools to extend that same somewhat undefined hope, with the promise of education a long-valued potential avenue to leveling the playing field for everyone.
But a cold, hard look at the overall picture leaves many of us scratching our heads and wondering if, in spite of the best efforts and intentions, the system is failing. Not just the schools, but the whole paradigm of American culture, the thinking behind what we call our greatness.
We’re in a time when many are feeling this vague unease and are seeking a new look at the needs and methods of education in 21st century America to shift the paradigm toward something more human, sustainable, and meaningful.
It’s not the same old battle over testing. Sure, the right kind of tests are necessary at the right times. But it’s no recipe for a daily, pervasive, unyielding model.
So can we test in reasonable ways while leaving room for more than the test, too?
For all the good that teachers want to do — and strive to do — they’re under the gun in the face of both cultural factors that they can’t control and top-down measurement and testing dictates that seem more interested in churning out data than in cultivating the young minds and bodies of living breathing people.
Where is the place for nurturing and developing creative, compassionate, engaged young citizens who feel a connection to something culturally rich, intellectually integrated, and historically enduring? Teachers, parents, and students all want this.
In one arena — and I’m sure there are others — teachers and education programmers are planting new seeds for our kids. Their palette is the edible schoolyard garden.
These teachers are helping students learn old-fashioned values like care of and respect for nature along with the value of hard work. At the same time kids of all learning styles are getting hands-on lessons in the garden that include math, science, language, history, the arts and more.
What else? An added benefit is that school gardens build character and a sense of connectedness as they build strong young bodies. Hunger is partly alleviated, and kids learn to value the taste of healthy, unprocessed foods.
Fresh air. Exercise. Team-work. And the age-old wonder and awe of watching life-giving food burst forth from a seed and so knowing that a tomato doesn’t come from salsa jars, but from an aromatic smelling plant. Making a lunch of it all with school chums is just icing on the cake…er, salad on the plate!
All of this can lead to bold new sustainability models in our urban areas, where part of the food for students is sourced right on site, and compost is returned to the garden to teach the critical lesson that what we use and deplete must have a way to be renewed for the chance of use once more.
Edible schoolyard gardens truly do feed body and mind. Every school needs one.
— Lindsay Curren
*Print inspired by a photo of the garden work at Groundwork Somerville.