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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Single Greatest Lesson The Garden Teaches

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. 
-Michael Pollan

Yesterday, as with every Friday, I was driving from our garden at Sanderlin and heading to Lakewood for my mid-day shift there. Though maybe I should stop referring to it as a 'shift', as the word 'shift' seems more appropriate to describe the monotonous clocking into some dreadful job (with stereotypical office punch clock), rather than the excitement I feel walking into prepare for the garden lesson. We started with a bit of maintenance and planting some native plats before getting the lesson ready for our classes. I spent some time watching the bees and pollinating wasps and metallic flies buzzing around the red okra plants and tomatillo shrubs, both of which are quite large and producing lots of flowers and fruit. We had our class of kindergardeners reviewing the water cycle and spent a good amount of time teaching them to water with the watering can, which a few of the kids had said they had never done before. We had a bit of a frenzy going after the watering cans at first, but the kids eventually got the rhythm and were quite good at sharing the watering. After our kindergardeners, we had our second grade class focus on bugs, as they had missed that lesson and really wanted to still do that lesson. So we taught them the categories of beneficial bugs in our garden: Predators, Pollinators, and Decomposers. And we then took them into the garden to find bugs in each of these categories. My group found some ladybugs and orange assassin bugs which are predators of pests like aphids, spotted bees and wasps pollenating the flowers of the tomatillos, and turned of a log to see our favorite decomposer the rolly polly. We also saw some pests, like the melon-worm, which were eating our plants. I talked to the kids a bit about what they thought about us having to kill the melon-worms to keep our plants alive, as I know I am still struggling between the necessity to kill them and my desire to not kill even little green caterpillars. The kids did not seem to share much of my concern for the melon-worms, but at least humored my philosophical conundrum for a bit before running off to go see a giant spider some others had found near the compost. Just before they had to leave, I found a cockroach—another less-loved decomposer— and the kids were both horrified and fascinated that I was letting it crawl on my hand. Then one girl came to me and asked to hold it, and then mischievously ran it to her teacher who was less than enthused about having the cockroach brought to her. Seeing the kids get so excited and connecting to all the parts and processes of the garden, and seeing them learn to cooperate with one another really exemplifies to me why this project is so incredible. These kids really make this time not a 'shift,' but a pleasure and lesson for me as well.

—Noah Schlager

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