By Joan Ratajczak, Middle School Humanities Guide
We live in an unprecedented time and place in history when food is always and everywhere available. All we have to do is stop at any store, drive-thru, or even gas station. It’s easy to take it all for granted when we really haven’t known anything else.
Adolescents who have been through the Erdkinder garden group know differently. The original garden had been allowed to go fallow during our recent campus construction. When students returned to the garden in the fall, the weeds were a six-foot high solid mass. Students had to cut their way through the flora only to find that the wooden raised beds had been washed away by flooding waters or rotted in their place. After clearing the debris, we reconstructed the garden beds using the materials at hand, concrete blocks left over from the construction.
In the spring we planted our first vegetables. However, we could not get back to the garden regularly due to so many great activities, trips, and holidays on Fridays near the end of the year. Once again, the garden became overgrown.
This fall, our intrepid students again cleared the weeds, smoothed the soil, and hurriedly planted cool season crops before our Hocking Hills trip. We returned to excitedly find kale, lettuce, spinach, and radishes thriving in the garden beds.
There was no time to rest, however, in the face of unusually soaring fall temperatures and drought. Our gardeners faithfully watered, weeded, and waited.
Finally, we were able to start harvesting. Now each week, we are able to harvest abundant greens for a fresh salad for our middle school community. Nevertheless, it’s no time to rest. We now have to place row covers over the plants to protect them from the cold night temperatures as we face the challenge of keeping our produce growing into the winter.
Nothing can replace the wonder of seeing something go from a seed buried in dirt to abundant, delicious, and health-giving food. The students never stop marveling at the size of the plants, their flavor, and the joy of picking something right out of the garden and eating it. Gardening in the Erdkinder program is just one way our students develop a sense of gratitude.
It’s hard work, rather than easy access, that generates a sense of thankfulness. Our students have first-hand experience with how difficult it is to grow food. Furthermore, they have a better understanding of what small farmers face around the world. The next time they see aisle upon aisle of food in a grocery story or pass through the drive through window, they know and feel a deep sense of thankfulness.
“Life in the open air, in the sunshine, and a diet high in nutritional content coming from the produce of neighbouring fields improve the physical health, while the calm surroundings, the silence, the wonders of nature satisfy the need of the adolescent mind for reflection and meditation.” -Maria Montessori