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, 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 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 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.