Gardening — and lessons about the world

“Gardening isn’t about plants,” says Alys Fowler in a recent essay in the British newspaper The Guardian. “It’s about everything else: the soil, the insects, the birds, mammals and reptiles, and how you sit in this world. The plants are the final flourish, the gift of reciprocity from all the others.”

We could not make a better case for building gardens at schools and working like mad to convince the licensed formal educators to connect with them. The state education regulators could try to make a list of everything we want kids to know and slap an important-sounding heading at the top like Learning Standards. It’s doubtful, however, that that approach will ever secure as much engagement as real hands-on experiences – the kind of things that are produced by doing and touching and tasting. And maybe all of that out in the garden.

Well-intentioned as it is, the formal education system isn’t reaching vast swaths of its intended target. Schools, especially of the so-called failing variety, are failing to engage huge numbers of kids with information-rich and experience-poor teaching. Encourage kids to touch soil, insects, birds, mammals and reptiles and to think about how we sit in this world and we just might convince more of them to believe put their faith in education.

Even better, Fowler writes, “In a time when we are given so few opportunities to have meaningful relationships with the natural world, gardening is our route back, because it can be done anywhere: on a rooftop, on a windowsill, in your back garden or with a community.”

We will take Fowler’s essay as an endorsement of the Vegetable Project’s work, though we know she has not really ever met us. We invite you to read it, too.

–Bill Stoneman

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