Education in the Garden
I spent Thursday afternoon with 7th graders who absolutely cannot wait another moment to eat corn. I was helping them plan our garden using math. “If a corn plant takes up two square feet,” I said, “and one of your garden beds is eighty square feet, how many corn plants can we grow in that bed?”
Foreheads wrinkled for a moment, and then they almost shouted, “Forty!”
“How many ears of corn grow on one plant?”
“Maybe two!” “Or three!”
“So how many ears of corn do we get to eat?”
“At least eighty!”
There were four boys in that group, and they spent the rest of that class divvying up the imaginary ears of corn among themselves. “I did the most work,” one of them said, “so I’m taking forty and y’all can have the rest.” Protests ensued. Around them, the other groups worked on their projects– counting backwards from the last frost date to make our spring planting calendar, making lists of companion plants, measuring the garden beds outside and finding their areas. “Excuse me Miss Carolyn,” one girl said urgently from across the room, “but what is a coal-rab-y? Should we grow it?” “I’ve never tasted eggplant,” her friend added, “so we have to grow that. What does it taste like?”
Yes, growing food is all about math and science, but it’s also about magic and suspense. If we plant these things, will they really grow? If they grow, do we really get to eat them? As I look at the weather forecast and see nothing but freezing temperatures ahead, the biggest question on my mind is if spring will ever come. My kindergarten class at Clay Elementary has planted a chaotic jumble of pea seeds in their garden, and are eagerly awaiting their arrival aboveground. Checking their beds this week, there was not a single pea shoot to be seen. We are so anxious for them we could burst.
Leaving the 7th grade yesterday, I said, “I’ll be back in two weeks. Maybe by then it’ll be warm enough to go outside.” Outside! The word rocketed around the room like electricity. Cross your fingers for us. We may be sitting inside this weekend wearing hats and mittens, but we’ll be dreaming of math class with a warm breeze, fresh peas, and some fat ears of corn.
-Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Gateway Greening Youth Educator