Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meaningful Work in the Community Garden

Community Garden Emphasis(es) for 2012

Overview - Our goal, as always, is to facilitate meaningful work on the land that is developmentally appropriate for all ages of children at Lake Country School. The center of meaningful work at the rural campus is a working organic vegetable farm. LCS families and others can purchase a share in the season's harvest through the CSA. In addition produce from the farm is sold at fall markets, used in the rural campus kitchen, given to food shelves, used at the urban campus in the classrooms, and used for great gatherings at the rural campus. The work of the farm is intended to provide a very specific place for children and families to connect in a deep way to the literal source of their food, as well as to connect in an abstract way to all humans through history. It is essential that this connection to the land go beyond simple agricultural tourism and tokenistic work, so that each child have a true sense of the greatness of the work and the importance of his or her role. Here are the highlights of our garden plan for 2012:

Greenhouse -  Even before the ground has thawed and the snow melted, we are busy busy in the greenhouses getting ready for the LCS plant sale and growing plants for the CSA. The greenhouse work is our primary connection point to the meaningful work of the land during the months of March and April.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) -  The sale of shares in the season's harvest to over 50 families and the weekly markets starting in mid-July and ending at the end of October. This forms the basket which encloses most of the other forms of meaningful work at the rural campus. This is our primary method of distribution and connection with the eaters. For the CSA we grow the basics (greens, broccoli, green beans, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, zucchini, melons, sweet corn, flowers, herbs, and several other items in smaller quantities). We request that CSA members come out to help in the harvest or other garden work twice during the season. Our summer Junior High Apprenticeships are focused on the CSA work. We have E2 classes who come to help harvest in September, and Junior High Farm Stay 1 helps with the last three harvests of the year. For many of our youngest children, the CSA harvest and work days are their first connections to the rural campus.

Pumpkins and Squash - Every E1 class will plant an enormous pumpkin patch at the rural campus in May or June, and in September, every E1 class will come out to help harvest the pumpkins for the Harvest Festival. Pumpkins are a perfect fit. There is such joy in the harvest, and the work is BIG physical work. Likewise, the winter squash harvest is a long-standing tradition for our E2 students.

Three Sisters - Every year we do a different version of the "three sisters" garden with an E2 class. We learn of history and culture, as well as making an attempt every year to scientifically select seeds for the next year's garden.

Popcorn - Popcorn has grown into an important crop for our E2 students. The harvest work is focused
in October and November, during the school year, and the payoff is an easy-to-use tasty treat.

Garlic -  Garlic stores well, and we have had good success growing it. Garlic culture provides meaningful work for E2 students in October in the planting, May in the weeding and mulching, and it gives us a perfect excuse to have a mid-summer festival at the rural campus.

Potatoes - As with our other E2 connections, potatoes are a crop that you plant in the Spring and harvest in the Fall. The harvest of potatoes is like digging for treasure, and it is big, important work that also connects us in an unbroken line to over ten thousand years of human history.

Fruit - Nowhere does the payoff of meaningful work taste so good as when you can eat fresh fruit straight from the land. Our E2 and Junior High students have slowly but surely been building up the orchards at the rural campus. Our fall-bearing raspberries have matured, and from August to October children have been able to gorge themselves on the red juicy fruit. Our blueberry orchard is beginning to grow, but it will still be a few years before we have bumper crops. The apple, pear and plum trees are finally coming into abundance. This past year, we were able to include samples of each of these in the weekly markets and every visitor this fall could pick and eat a tree fruit. We should not forget the joy of the wild blackberries or the red currants and grapes by the farmhouse.

Storage and Winter Crops - Every year we try to find more ways to make the work of the land meaningful. One way is to have the bounty of the garden continue throughout the year. We are always looking into season extension and more storage varieties and methods. This year our Farm Stay students in March will be able to eat a lot of stored crops from the garden: sweet corn, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, pickles, garlic, herbs, popcorn, squash, and more. May this list grow yearly - not just to bring meaning to the work through greater "self-sufficiency," but also to look towards shifting more of the CSA produce to sales during the school year in order to make the economic connections more real.

Community Garden New Varieties and Subtractions for 2012

Shallots - We have discovered how flavorful and versatile shallots are, and we will attempt to grow some in the garden by the farmhouse.

Dry Beans - We are always looking for crops that promote meaningful work experiences during the school year. Dry beans can and should be harvested in the fall - plus we can eat them! We are trying black beans and a red bean called Vermont Cranberry.

Tortilla Corn - To go with our dry beans, we will attempt to grow a variety of corn that is useful for making tortillas. Also we are trying something called "parching corn" which apparently pops like popcorn, but ends up more like a corn nut. Hmm.

Broccoli Family additions - We sampled the purple cauliflower last year and loved it. We will grow more of that. Also we'll grow twice as much brussels sprouts, a new variety of kale, and plenty of cabbage for making sauerkraut.

Other additions - We will attempt to grow fennel, epazote, more birdhouse gourds, more orange watermelon, and daikon radish (for kimchi).

Subtractions - We will give up on celery - the results were good the first year, but last year the celery was flavorful, but stringy. We will grow fewer varieties of squash, focusing on storage varieties like butternut and kabocha. Last year we ended up with too many squash that were not long keepers.

Why Do We Care About Meaningful Work in the Garden?

This is the time of year when we order the seeds for the rural campus community garden. While there is still snow on the ground and the smell of the thawing earth is not yet urgently tugging at our sleeves, we can imagine the garden as it could be. In my own imagination there is verdant abundance. The plants are healthy and vibrant. The fruit is sweet and spinach heavenly. There is joy in the faces of the people who come to help plant, harvest or weed. Every new variety turns out better than the last. There is no tomato blight, no flea beetle, no dead apple tree, and rain every week (just the right amount). I am never in a hurry, nor do I ever have to till a crop under because the weeds took it over. The garden is so beautiful that my imagination stretches to new crops and adventures. Why not dry beans? How about tortilla corn? A whole bed of shallots? No problem. This is the time of year to dream.

I am a firm believer in the power of intention and goal setting. When we set the intention for what we value and what outcomes we might desire, we prepare ourselves for success. By fixing this intention into our whole selves, our actions will consciously and unconsciously line up to meet the goals. In addition, our intention is attractive to others and we find ourselves surrounded by people and events caught up in the stream. We are prepared for synchronicity.

When I was hired by Lake Country School I was seduced by the story of Lake Country and the Land School. Wow! Here was a group of people with a shared vision for changing the world: all we need to do is be unfailing in our efforts to meet the developmental needs of each child in our care, and those children will grow and blossom and become the magnificent people we know they can be. What could be simpler? In the interview, we learned that the general idea for the Land School was for it to be a location for "meaningful work" on the land. What a novel idea. That work have meaning. It was what I had been looking for all of my life. In the context of meaningful work, we construct ourselves while we are engaged in the work of the head and hand. It is like magic.

Now it is many years later and as we plan for the 2012 garden I find myself wondering again about meaningful work. Ideally the community garden is a place where every person can attach to some form of meaningful work. How do we facilitate that? It depends on what gives work meaning. At each stage of our lives, what gives work meaning can be radically different.

Here are some ideas around meaningful work in the garden:

Joy. The garden should be a place where people enjoy the work and want to be there. We grow some crops for the joy of it. It is lovely to harvest sunflowers and to walk amidst the blossoms. To pick beans or weed carrots alone is tiresome, but to do it in a group buoyant. To dig potatoes. Even when the work is physically exhausting, there is certain exhilaration in discovering the limits of one's ability. To look back on a row of weeded carrots is to already taste the sweetness.

Justice and Peace. We try to have eaters engage in a physical connection with the source of their food. There are great lessons to be had in discovering where our food comes from. Likewise when we work in the garden we feel a kinship with all other people in the world who work the land. Once we have experienced the work ourselves, we are less likely to tolerate injustice in the the production of food, and by extension, less likely to tolerate any injustice. Garden education is peace education.

Love. It is deeply important for children and adults to come to love and know specific places in the natural world. In the love and knowledge of one place is the imprint for compassion and love of all places. The community garden is a place to love, to feel the soil and enjoy the bounty.

Maximum Effort. The rural campus' gardens are places for big work. The pumpkin that is too big to carry can be rolled to the wagon or carried with great effort by one proud child. The massive popcorn harvest requires the re-invention of the assembly line. The work of the CSA harvest has a deadline that calls us to work together efficiently.

Perfection and Responsibility. Although the garden work does not literally demand perfection, it does give feedback to us in much the same way that a Montessori material will give us visual or tactile feedback. You cannot cheat in gardening. The plants either are healthy and abundant or they are not, and they require us to hone in on ever-improving techniques. The lessons we learn for ourselves have great meaning.

Abundance. The people who come to work in the community garden need to be able to eat and enjoy the produce in the form of delicious meals and take-home goodies. We focus our member support on harvest days, where the pay-off is immediate. When E2 classes come to harvest potatoes or popcorn, we make sure they get to eat some. Our garlic harvest festival includes a sumptuous potluck featuring roasted whole heads of garlic. When classes come to help harvest pumpkins, each class brings back a large pumpkin to have in the classroom. Nature is abundant and when when are sensorially aware of this abundance, we are more apt to be generous.

Sustainability. We follow organic and sustainable farming principles and model care for the earth. It is important that children have repeated exposure to a value system of care for the earth. We a model for sustainable agriculture, and just as recycling at the urban campus models a value system, our insistence on sustainable methods contains an inherent respect for the earth.

Independence. We seek to create a model where self-sufficiency and food independence is valued. Maria Montessori talks about how young children do not need things done for them, instead they need help to do things themselves. It is an important distinction. At the Land School, before every meal we announce what we are eating and what items were grown at the Land School. We teach the adolescents to cook from scratch. There is a sense of empowerment that comes from growing and cooking one's own food that goes much beyond the practical aspects.

Connection. Although it is important for everyone, the work of the land is especially meaningful to elementary child to the extent that it helps locate her or him in terms of the cosmos and the great stories. Hands-on connections help cement the child's growing sense of his or her important place in the universe.

Valorization. The work of the land is meaningful to the adolescent to the extent that it valorizes the developing social self. It is important that the adolescent feel he or she has made a recognized contribution to the larger social unit. This gives the effort meaning and brings them back for more.

No comments:

Post a Comment