Big Questions For Little People

You know you have a great job when the by- products of your labor are salad, strawberries, flowers, and smiling children. This week in the Hollister and Mountain View school gardens students cleared the first round of weeds, planted sunflowers, squash, and gourds, monitored (dropping) compost temperatures, diagnosed a plant disease, planted nitrogen-fixing legumes. mulched around perennials to conserve soil moisture, and observed the Black Phoebe flicking its tail and catching insects on the wing.

Impromptu Birding at Hollister School Garden

While planting seeds in pots to take home for summer, a 1st grader deliberated out loud while choosing between Echinacea, a butterfly-attracting flower from the prairie,  and the super sweet Sungold tomato: “Well, I can’t decide. I know we need to grow food to eat, but… I also really like butterflies.”

Tell me about it. I couldn’t help but hear the echo of a thousand land managers and county planners throughout history weighing the values of ag land vs. natural preserves. We ended up planting a tomato seed in the center and Echinacea in each corner. We’ll see how it all works out. At Hollister and Mountain View the students don’t seem set on separating the native plants from domesticated edibles. There’s hope here: perhaps in the future farms will look more like forests and and forests more like well tended gardens.

Always a tough one...salsa or butterflies?

Geoff Lawton famously said “you can fix all the world’s problems in a garden.”  The disconnect between children and their environment is now a field of study with its own section in the book store. Watching students connect with their food and environment out there I have to agree with Lawton. Examples of students making real-life decisions in the garden are plentiful, and the decisions made produce readily observable results: scatter the seeds or make rows?  Plant closer or further apart? Work in a group or alone? Harvest this leaf or that one? More food or more flowers? How should we use this land we’ve been given?

After analyzing a  survey I handed out at the beginning of the program regarding what students wanted to plant or include in their garden, I realized that the results – tallied and converted to bar graph by a 4th grade class – could have been a graph of sugar content. Apples on top, onions below. So for now that’s what we do.

Of course I need to make sure there’s Kale out there, onions, and plants that attract wildlife (another high item on the list next to garden gnomes and Koi pond). But in general, we like the sweets, all of us. So make way for strawberries,  raspberries, and Sungolds. It is, after all, their garden.

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