Winter harvests create teaching opportunities

Think the growing season ended a couple of months ago? Well, think again. And look at the leafy greens and root vegetables that long-time Vegetable Project volunteer Cremilda Dias harvested in her Albany home garden in the last two weeks. That is to say, mostly following single-digit temperatures.

And though extending the season with some simple coverings is pretty cool in itself, the really big deal for people who work to bring some teaching and learning outdoors, who wonder why mainstream educators don’t seem to embrace the idea, is the prospect of creating great opportunities for kids to intersect with school gardens during a much bigger part of the school calendar. We want that because voluminous research points to the idea that exposure to nature contributes to wellbeing. And wellbeing supports everything that schools are trying to accomplish. Getting kids outdoors more often would not magically and instantly turn poorly performing students into academic whizzes. There is plenty of good reason, however, to think that it would help.

Notably, “holding students accountable” for meeting “learning standards” and other nostrums that ignore or avoid dealing with deeply personal challenges for kids growing up in poverty or violent neighborhoods or unstable homes are unlikely to transform schooling into a positive experience. Experiential learning opportunities and exposure to a simultaneously stimulating and calming environment, however, can do exactly that. A visit to the garden in late December or early January to collect some kale, collard greens, lettuce and carrots will create such learning opportunities and put students in such an environment. Thus, it is far more likely to ignite in disengaged students a passion to learn and it is far more likely to foster the sense that an education is attainable than worksheets and writing information on a board in the front of a classroom.

And so realizing that we, too, can produce the kind of harvests that our friend, Crem, did from just before Christmas to just after New Year’s Day, is a wonderful reminder that we have something important to offer.

Thanks to so many of you for pitching in and encouraging us along.

And for the record, pictures here include broccolini, carrots, cilantro, collard greens, frisee endive, a wide variety of kale, a couple of different lettuces, mustard greens, parsley, parsnips and Swiss chard.

–Bill Stoneman

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