Discomfort with dirty hands strains ties to nature

Sowing seeds, repotting plants, turning compost and other gardening activities often triggers an intriguing response when done in a high school. Student after student proclaims, “Yuck! You touch that dirt? That’s gross,” or some variation thereof. You should have heard the squeals today when we opened package of red wiggler worms.

The dismay is not universal. And of course many will move past this aversion to dirt (actually often sterile potting mix) and dirty. Still, it raises worrisome questions. Are we raising kids today at such arm’s length from nature that so many will be unable to help care for the environment that they’ll pass on to their children? And will these kids be able to enjoy the restorative benefit of nature?

Helping kids get comfortable with the idea of touching that yucky dirt takes time and some patience. If fostering this comfort is one thing the Vegetable Project does, however, we suspect the time it takes will have been well spent. Indeed, comfort with some dirt under the fingernails just might be an important gateway to making more peace with surroundings than so many of our students do.

 —Bill Stoneman

2 responses to “Discomfort with dirty hands strains ties to nature

  1. A very thoughtful and introspective post.

  2. I agree with the post and the comment. Also, discomfort with insects and worms can be a barrier too. Some kids are fascinated, some don’t care, and others are just terrified. Helping students through that process is another important part of the work you’re doing Bill. Thanks

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