Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gardening is School

You know the saying, "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail"? For me, the more I write about food, the more everything has to do with food. (And believe me, I go around all day making people hungry because my conversation will eventually roll around to the topic of food.)

Now, with the announcement this week of the Victory Garden Drive, all things related to gardening are hitting my radar screen.

First, I ran into the Absent-Minded Professor (host of my own Victory Garden) at the cafe the other day, and almost immediately he started talking about building a compost bin in his backyard to go along with the raised beds. (Yes!)

Then, at work, I received a pamphlet that had been repaired and was ready to shelve: "Gardening in Elementary Schools," a United States Bureau of Education publication from 1916.

1916! Yes, even then, people were talking about school gardens and working gardening into
the curriculum. This kind of project became especially important in the cities, where children grew up away from farms and the sources of food production.

Not everyone was sold on the idea. One of the many problems of having children work school gardens (or home gardens supported by the schools, often a more popular option as it allowed all produce to stay within the family) was the growing concern over child labor. But as this bulletin's author points out, "Wholesome work is good for boys and girls," comparing the labor of gardening with the less favorable conditions found in mills or other industrial sites where children often worked.

Another reason given for encouraging this sort of labor on the part of schoolchildren was the
"moral" issue of building good citizens. (I'm not sure, but hasn't that notion become somewhat... "quaint"... to our own detriment?) As children took on more responsibility for the gardens they worked, learning how to take care of crops and manage funds received from the sale of those crops, they learned how their work fit into the grander plan of making the cities more livable for everyone, and they looked beyond the garden to see how else they could improve their world.

They should be given to understand that on account of their training they should be leaders in civic improvement, and that they should assume the responsibility of protecting shade trees and other public property (p.45)

Civic responsibility –- what a concept!

The author concedes that "It may be contended that children will not voluntarily conduct garden enterprises without some extra inducement" such as prizes, badges, or school credit (p.70). He agrees that children should receive recognition for their achievements but that such recognition should not become the chief reason for their involvement.

And, of course, there are always obstacles: lack of support from parents or the school board, lack of funds, lack of teachers available to help, etc. But the author points out, "The thoughtful superintendent will realize that the only way to bring about reforms is to convince the public that the work is necessary and desirable" (p.73).

Now, if these school gardens became successful in so many places and did so much good for the children who worked in them, why did we let ourselves be persuaded that we no longer needed them? After all, many people are reviving the idea of school gardens now, and they're meeting with many successes.

So why, oh why, did we heed the voices of "authority" that told us we didn't need our gardens, the farms and the corporations would provide for us? Why did we relinquish control of our food systems and give children the message that that sort of work was beneath us?

And how do we make gardening "cool" for them again?



At 1/27/2008 7:17 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Amen sistah! So true on so many accounts. For one, I too spend most of my day thinking, talking, making, eating, writing and buying food. I hadn't heard that expression about the hammer and the nail, but it's so apropos.
As for the school gardens, I'm so glad that you found this pamphlet nearly a century old. It is a little demoralizing that the concept didn't stick, but maybe there is something to learn from that. Maybe even a little side research project about why it didn't hold. Especially since the two world wars came not long after.
It's interesting to me that there was a concern about child labor. I think have a hard time wrapping their minds around what it means, in practice, for children to contribute to their community, have age-appropriate responsibility, and how much of a sense of accomplishment is gained when kids participate and feel needed, and find their place within the natural world. That is very different indeed, from slave labor in horrendous factory conditions. Hmmm...
Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer!

At 1/28/2008 7:29 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Bri, I have a really wicked habit of making people very hungry throughout the day, just by talking about food. They moan and complain, but I think they really love it. ;-)

I'm going to have to do more digging (pun intended!) in our documents collection to see what I can find about Victory Gardens and war rationing and the like. It really interesting to find that "there is nothing new under the sun" on all these issues... we just developed a collective amnesia somewhere down the Road to Progress.

All your points about child labor are well made... would that we would hear them made and see them believed more now!

At 1/28/2008 7:29 AM, Blogger Kelly said...

Your last question is a very important one, and I've been looking at some other school garden-to-table programs over the past year... wondering how to go about getting something started in my community. Of course, impossible when working full-time, but my hope is that within a year that will no longer be an issue for me and I can turn my attention to much more important, rewarding work.

It's amazing to me that my son does not enjoy being in the garden AT all. But my daughter loves it and I will work hard to help her maintain her sense of wonder and connection with it. But fear the teenage years when everything is a chore, no matter what it is...

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing that pamphlet, so cool!

At 1/28/2008 12:47 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

You're right, Kelly, there's much to be considered... and much need to get these programs going. I wish I could get involved with a school garden project, or push to get a community garden started again, but I'm feeling pulled in other directions and guess I'm not the person for these practical tasks. But how to get younger folks interested? I don't yet know. I hope to inspire my "nephews" this summer since I'll be gardening at their place... maybe if they learn young what a joy it can be, it will stay with them.

I wonder, regarding the teen years... do you think getting your daughter to the point where she has her own garden space, where she can plant and create as she wants, where it's HER private space, might help her stay interested, even when "attitude" kicks in? I sort of wonder if I would have gone for that when I was a teenager. I don't know.

Glad you enjoyed the post. Sharing ideas is such a help for us all!


Post a Comment

<< Home