Planting the seeds of independence: It’s all in the dirt
Why aren’t fundamental life skills a standard part of secondary school education — tools young people need to ensure their independence as adults? If they can feed, clothe and provide shelter for themselves and their families, they’ll be prepared to weather almost any future storm, both literally and metaphorically.
Why are initiatives that teach those skills relegated to extracurricular, after-hours off-campus programs led by volunteers instead of being part of the standard curriculum? Most students don’t have the means or access to participate in our amazing 4-H programs and other similar organizations.
While I was organizing my notes for this column (which was supposed to focus on hydraulic fracturing), my husband popped into the office and suggested that this weekend might be a good time to get our vegetable seeds started in indoor containers. I agreed and then tried to shift my attention back to the technical documents on my desk. But I couldn’t shake off the question of why we don’t teach basic food gardening in our schools.
Western Colorado is a rich and robust agricultural area. Shoot, even I managed to coax a few yummy veggies from the soil last year. I turned to Google for a quick search and then picked up the phone.
I learned that the students, faculty and staff of Wingate Elementary right here in Grand Junction are now busy starting seeds in their indoor containers for transplanting into the school’s garden this spring. Principal Carol Wethington had only a few minutes to chat, but her enthusiasm for the program, now in its third year, was immediate and contagious.
“Oh, the students just love it,” she said. “Each grade has its own section with its own irrigation system; they grow greens, spinach, carrots, peas — lots of peas — and … .” I couldn’t write fast enough. “And,” she continued, “it was all done with donations and volunteer efforts, with students taking the lead.”
I had more questions, but she had students to tend to, and I had a fracking column deadline.
Despite the district’s budget cuts and community demands that schools do more with less, the folks of Wingate found a way to help plant the seeds of independence for their students. And rumor has it that other schools, if they can find a way around their pavement and concrete, are expected to follow suit.
I was reminded of stories about the Victory Gardens at more than 20 million homes across America during WWII. They planted crops and shared with neighbors. They came together to can, pickle and dry their surplus produce. The Victory Gardens were a grassroots initiative that helped to feed our nation in a time of war and economic stress.
The life lessons learned through gardening — including patience, dealing with the vagaries of nature, deferred gratification, self-sufficiency, temperance, love and respect — seem far more valuable in a child’s development than aggressive behaviors learned from adult bullies — at home and on the airwaves — who feel the need to diminish others in order to elevate their own positions.
Planting seeds and nourishing them to maturity takes vested care and attention. When some of the plants get too big and unruly, the gardener prunes them to yield more fruit and to make sure that the smaller plants have room to breathe and absorb enough sunshine. This ensures a complementary array of flavor and nutrition combinations.
Farmers and gardeners understand the risks as they plan, plant and nurture: drought, an untimely freeze, disease and pestilence, theft and damage by sneaky invaders. They learn to prepare for, deal with, and manage risks as a natural part of life. At harvest’s end, they know to clear away and compost spent foliage to nourish next year’s crop — natural cycles that mean sustainability year after year.
Planting and tending a garden means intimate awareness of seasonal birth, growth, transformation, maturity, death, decay and rebirth. It means getting up close and personal with warm sunny days, cold snowy days, raging storms, the sweet aroma of wet earth, mysterious shadows and majestic rainbows.
Here’s to Wingate and all the other schools planting the seeds of independence through their gardens. My fracking column will have to wait for now.