Dirty hands signal a measure of trusting relationship

It would be hard to overstate the pleasure we take in seeing kids get their hands dirty, which is not remotely to say that we make a big deal about anyone’s reluctance to dig in. So, a big thanks to Michele Patka, visual arts teacher at Stephen and Harriett Myers Middle School, for capturing dirty hands in all their glory at our Garden Club on Tuesday. We started seeds indoors for plants that will eventually move outside. The growing season in Albany just isn’t long enough for many things we grow without an indoor head start. Activity on Tuesday focused on Continue reading

Buy seeds to support the Vegetable Project

Start your own garden this year, maybe fill a couple of planters on the front porch, or perhaps add a few square feet to that special space – for the beauty you’ll create, for the hope you’ll inspire and for the stewardship of our environment you’ll provide. And please support the Vegetable Project when you Continue reading

Exposure to nature for sake of mental health

The U.S. surgeon general issued a stark warning this month that the nation’s youth are facing huge mental health issues and that although the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, it had been growing well before we first heard the word coronavirus. Other important voices, including the U.S. secretary of education and national organizations representing pediatricians, children’s hospitals and adolescent psychiatrists, have sounded similar alarms in recent weeks. And front-line educators who we talk with have their share of supporting anecdotes, and then some.

High on the list of important steps to take, these officials and well-placed Continue reading

Hands-on learning for hundreds of Albany students

It’s hard to top the reaction we see and hear when kids who have spent little time in the company of earthworms encounter them in our gardens. Shrieks and squeals – some with delight and some with dismay – fill the air, leaving little doubt that we got kids’ attention. So, we are bringing worms inside school buildings now also.

More specifically, we set up worm composting bins in six environmental science Continue reading

Opportunity to learn from a meaningful life

We lost a friend recently who we were just getting to know. Darby Penney, who lived a stone’s throw from our garden at Albany High School, passed away on Oct. 11. She learned of the Vegetable Project through Facebook, made a couple of financial contributions, bought seeds in one of our fundraisers and wrote some copy about particular vegetables Continue reading

Experiential learning starting with dirty hands

School gardening is the easiest shorthand for what the Vegetable Project is about. But make no mistake about the importance of gently nudging kids to get their hands dirty. Indeed, we might argue that the tactile experience in as simple an act as stirring water and potting mix together with ungloved hands, as Myers Middle School students did repeatedly this morning, is a crucial ingredient missing from most mainstream teaching and learning.

To begin with, our classrooms are used largely for transmission of information from teacher to student, which is a pretty narrow conception of teaching and learning. And students use two of their five sense to receive such information, sight and hearing. And that’s a problem. Our sense of touch, taste and smell are critical parts of being sentient beings. More than that, teaching should serve needs of students with multiple learning styles. But most of all, learning from experience is often deeper and more meaningful than word-based transmission of information. And experiences without touching makes up a pretty slender slice of the experience universe.

So, school gardening’s support for experiential learning can always include encouraging kids to get hands dirty, whether indoors or outside. And an approach to that can almost always include suggesting digging and mixing. But here’s the key: it should be without pressuring and without rushing to offer gloves. Kids will move beyond their comfort zones when they are ready, but not when we harangue them and not if we make it completely unnecessary. 

The hands you see pushing water and potting mix around in the accompanying photo were part of a class initiative today that involved starting about 1,500 pea seeds (with 1,000 more planned for tomorrow). We are growing pea shoots by the 10-inch-by-20-inch tray with five family and consumer science classes. Very young pea plants, whose stems and leaves taste just like fresh peas, will anchor a green salad that each class will make in two weeks. And just like many kids’ hesitancy to get their hands dirty, many kids will probably be hesitant to eat greens, and especially greens that aren’t wrapped in plastic. But also, just as many kids overcame their hesitancy this morning to getting their hands dirty – because we were gentle in nudging them –we fully expect many to overcome their hesitancy to eat the greens we’re growing, partly because we are gentle in our nudging, but also because participation in growing the greens will make all the difference in the world.

It seems to us like an approach to teaching and learning.

–Bill Stoneman

Attitude behind approach makes difference

We made salad from freshly picked greens at a recent Myers Middle School Garden Club. Thirty-four kids were with us that afternoon. And most ate. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, including requests for second helpings. But the best, without doubt, was from a student who said, “I don’t eat vegetables. But I liked that.”

We have seen it before. We are confident that we will see it again. We think we know what’s going on. And we think there are some powerful lessons in this recurring Vegetable Project experience.

A secret salad dressing recipe is not likely the explanation for the cleaned plates. Continue reading

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 Continue reading

A busy couple of days for Vegetable Project team

Culinary students at Albany High School’s Abrookin Career and Technical Center sampled sampled beans, cucumbers, peppers a host of herbs at our Albany High garden on Thursday of last week and took back to the classroom armloads of corn, a few potatoes, green onions, Swiss chard and more. More than 100 students in five family and consumer science classes took in the Myers Middle School garden on Monday, where juicy red tomatoes were the big attraction. On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of tasting dishes in the Abrookin classroom kitchen that included our potatoes and chard.

It has been a busy few days! And with a new school year upon us and a bit Continue reading

Winning over audience sometimes takes time

Sometimes the intended audience for what someone thinks is a great idea does not jump immediately with delight. The first week of school in Albany provides two examples, one involving an offer of luscious vine-ripened tomatoes and the other an offer of an opportunity to move some instruction outdoors.

Neither was embraced with the enthusiasm that we thought would be almost automatic. Perhaps we forgot some of lessons we have learned slowly over the years of digging in the dirt with Albany kids and talking with paid educators about what the Vegetable Project is about. Really, we know from experience that neither group can be rushed into Continue reading