A Happy Journey

johnson salad harvest best

We‘re coming to the end of the school year full of joy and accomplishment! We released the butterflies we raised ourselves into the wild, shouting “Have a happy journey!” as they flew up into the sky. The past few weeks we’ve had quite a happy journey ourselves. We planted over 40 trees (generously donated by Forest Releaf and the Missouri Department of Conservation) to create a beautiful nature trail next to the Clay Elementary Garden.  We hosted almost 100 students from Avery Elementary at Clay’s garden for a field day.  And at last, today, we were able to harvest and eat the fruits of our labor: a delicious salad.  Our salad started off a few months ago looking like this:


Kennington Planting A Salad After many weeks of watering and impatient waiting, they exploded into giant lettuce plants the size of elephant ears. We had an exuberant harvest.

Dunlap Salad Harvest 4

Everyone ran to the garden and ripped three leaves off the lettuce plants with names like Red Freckled, Pak Choi, Matador, Butter Crunch, Rouge d’Hiver.  We washed them, getting completely soaked ourselves in the process, and squeezed lemons over them, yelling about how the lemon juice stung our fingers. I sent the kindergarteners back to the garden to pick the purple chive flowers, and I added olive oil and salt to the salad. And then:

Some of us asked for seconds, and some of us spit it out and made gagging sounds, but the important part is that we all tried it! “If you don’t try,” their kindergarten teacher said, “how will you ever know if something is good?” A lesson for all of us.

johnson salad harvest 2
This was my last class of the season. Our sweet potatoes are in the ground, the benchmark of summertime in the school garden. “These won’t be ready to eat until you’re FIRST GRADERS,” I told my kindergarten class. My students and my sweet potatoes are both in the process of transformation.  As they walked back inside, I waved after them, wishing them a happy journey just like the butterflies. When I see them again, they will be different.

Carolyn Cosgrove Payne, Youth Educator


Dear Farmer Will

The springtime frenzy has hit us like a big sack of seed potatoes here at Gateway Greening. Last week I felt like I never left my truck, racing back and forth between schools dropping off supplies, meeting compost delivery drivers, talking to principals, and teaching kindergarten classes. I know when I’m this busy, I tend to perceive even the smallest things as criticism—a sideways glance from a teacher, or the resounding “NO!” one student yells out when I ask the class if they want to sing a song. In the chaos, it’s easy for me to forget the bigger picture of why I love this work.

That’s why I was so psyched to get a copy of the children’s book “Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (and illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin) in the mail. Will Allen is one of my personal heroes. As many of you know, he is a former-basketball-player-turned-farmer and the founder of Growing Power, one of the greatest food justice organizations in the nation. What is food justice, you ask? Food justice means that everybody can enjoy a full belly of healthy, culturally appropriate food that is grown in a way that respects the earth. It is a global movement, asserting that those tenets are fundamental rights, no matter how much money you make or what color your skin is or what background you come from.

I ordered this picture book about Farmer Will because I’ll be attending a Growing Power workshop next week, focused on the intersection of food justice and racism. I’m so excited! I wanted my students to share my excitement, so I decided to use the Farmer Will book to plant a seed of food justice in my kindergarten class at Clay Elementary.

There are not a lot of children’s books that feature African American men as main characters, and the enthusiasm among my kindergarteners in looking at the pictures was palpable. We read the story of Will buying abandoned lots in Milwaukee, and using them to feed his neighbors and teach kids to farm. We talked about how his work is important for people who don’t have a lot to eat. We screamed at the close-up picture of a worm. On the very last page, there was a question: “Will you be on Will Allen’s crew? Will you grow vegetables for your family, your neighbors, on your porch, or roof, or yard?” Without hesitation, the kindergarteners shouted, “YES!”

“Good news! We’re already part of Will Allen’s crew,” I said, “because we grow food at our school! We are going to tell Farmer Will what we like about our school garden. Next week I’m going to visit one of his farms, and I’m going to deliver your letters then.” (Shhh, don’t tell them that I may not actually get to meet Will in person!

After half an hour of hard work, here are the results:

Dear Farmer Will 3.25.14

(Dear Farmer Will, My name is Terrion and we have a garden at our school. I like our school garden because I get to grow. Your friend, Terrion)

Dear Farmer Will2 3.25.14

(Dear Farmer Will, My name is Ryniya and we have a garden at our school. I like our school garden because I like to pick potatoes. Your friend, Ryniya)

Dear Farmer Will3 3.25.14

(Dear Farmer Will, My name is Julius. We have a garden at our school. I like our school garden because I like digging.)

Reading my students’ letters, I am remembering that we are part of a team. As a traveling teacher, I sometimes feel like I work alone under a giant heap of to-do lists. But me, a whole big crew of kindergarteners, Farmer Will, all of the other food justice organizations in our country and beyond, and really, anyone who has ever felt the power of a good meal to bring them peace—we are all growing together toward yummy food and justice. Now, that is a cause worth working overtime for.