At Clay Elementary, the mulberries are falling from the trees like a black and blue rain and the elderflowers are blooming. We harvested cabbage and lettuce on the last day of school, and the very first raspberry was bright red against the leaves. Somehow we ended up with a whole bed of rutabagas, all the size of baseballs and only getting bigger. The preschool class made a big batch of strawberry rhubarb jam from the garden. 5 perfect strawberries lingered under the leaves after all the classes had gone inside. And there was still more to be picked, everywhere we looked– mountains of sage, mint, and kale, gobbling up sunlight and reaching out for more.
So often we feel that resources- money, time, patience- are scarce, and that feeling of scarcity can take a heavy emotional toll. Growing food can replenish our feelings of abundance. Plant one tomato seed, and at the end of the year, you’ll end up with not only tomatoes, but thousands more tomato seeds. Plant asparagus or apple trees one time, and for the next 50 years, it will feed you like clockwork. Chickens lay eggs almost every day. Everything in the garden grows, from a child’s perspective, as if by magic. Suddenly one day, from a seed and then a stem and then a leafy mass, there are peas. As they begin to understand some of the natural systems behind the magic– photosynthesis, the water cycle, the soil food web– kids realize that the earth has given us the tools we need to take care of ourselves, if we are willing.
School gardens are surging in popularity, and many researchers are trying to pinpoint what exactly it is about growing food that seems to benefit children so much. I think we know the answer. A full bed of ripe strawberries challenges the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, and helplessness, and replaces it with other things- joy, gratitude, and hope.
-Youth Educator Carolyn Cosgrove Payne