Enthusiastic gardeners harvest a bountiful crop in Orchard School’s gardens.

Learning from Mother Nature

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Thursday August 22, 2013

One of the main missions of SLIMY (Sustainable Living Initiatives Motivating Youth), a committee of Orchard Elementary School’s PTO, is to “build a sustainable future through place-based educational and service programs”.  This is the tenth consecutive summer season this vision has come to life!

 Orchard School’s 12 plus gardens have been an integral part of the education curriculum as core concepts such as stewardship from an ecosystem perspective, local and cultural heritage, sustainability, etc. are taught through place-based experience with Mother Nature.   As Orchard’s campus gardener and natural food educator, funded by SLIMY,  it has been my goal this summer to enhance each of these natural spaces so that students and summer campers may take the most out of their hands-on learning experiences in the gardens and come away with the understanding of these core concepts.

My work at Orchard Elementary School began in early June when the spring crop of snow peas, strawberries and asparagus was ready to be harvested and the soil ready to receive other fresh seed. Much of this work was done by the second and third grade in my “Garden Lessons” offered to classes who sought additional experience in the gardens.  As the School’s Out Summer Program began, my role came to include leading Garden Club, an activity offered daily to campers who chose to participate in activities centered on the place-based education program core concepts. These activities included art projects, scavenger hunts, planting, group discussions, harvesting, general maintenance tasks, weeding competitions, plant/veggie identification, and cooking (a crowd favorite).  While now we enjoy the bounty of our gardens at this time of year and prepare the beds for fall crop, earlier in the summer when our crop was too young to be harvested, we got much of our produce for the cooking portion of Garden Club from Greg Soll, a local organic farmer hired by a local non-profit, Common Roots. 

One of my favorite moments from this summer was when we were making monster green smoothies. In addition to the ingredients the recipe called for, we decided to harvest fresh kale from our Eat the Rainbow garden and add it to our concoction. When I suggested to the campers that we should add the kale for an extra nutrient boost I got many disgusted faces, but this particular group of kids would add anything to the smoothie as long as they could then push the “blend” button to mix it in. Well, despite the grossed faces prior to this addition, many of the kids couldn’t distinguish the taste of the kale in the smoothie from that of the other fruits and veggies blended in.  While many of the kids thought the smoothie tasted “Okay” when it was served, several liked it enough to take home to their families.  I must say, this tactic for sneaking in those nutrient rich veggies is quite effective!

Throughout this summer I have been constantly amazed by the willingness and enthusiasm the kids brought every morning to the gardens and the kitchen. Their excitement over the bugs we found, the plants that grew overnight, the taste of a cooked vegetable they never had before, etc. reflect this incessant curiosity about discovering the natural world that is the true momentum needed for fully embracing the SLIMY vision and all that it encompasses. I have no doubt that I have learned as much as these kids have this summer as I reflect on the transformation not only within these natural spaces and the kids who helped tend to them, but within myself as well it has been truly inspiring to witness and be a part of.

SOURCE: Andrea Martin, Common Roots Intern and SLIMY Garden Educator with the School’s Out Program at Orchard School