Learning Life Cycles in the School Garden – FoodCorps New Mexico

Learning Life Cycles in the School Garden – FoodCorps New Mexico

 FoodCorps service members have the precious chance to share magical first experiences with kids in the school garden: to introduce them to seasonal change, to teach them about life cycles, and to witness their students make connections between the living and non-living components of our world. Today we have the opportunity to explore our maturing garden space with these themes in mind.

We stroll and observe the changing nature of our garden. The Sugar Baby pumpkins are wild and ready to harvest. The broccoli sprout is peeking up from below the soil, anxious to start harvesting the warmth of the sun. The sunflowers, although now without their vibrant petals and deep green leaves, are ready to share their seed.

“Oh no! Our sunflowers…what happened to them? They are so ugly now!” a garden club student shrieks as she finds our Mammoth sunflower bowing to the sun, heavy from the weight of its seeds. We discuss the journey of the sunflower patch and the impressiveness of each individual’s steady growth. A garden club leader reminds the other student of when we planted the patch, and the two continue to discuss the progression of the mammoth flower from sprout to seed.

Soon enough the students find the jackpot: hundreds of striped seeds, ready to explore the world with the help of birds, wind, and human hands.

Saving seed has been a sacred tradition in New Mexico for ages. Although the ritual of passing on community knowledge through the sharing of seed is not unique to this place, there are not many regions on earth where the act of saving and sharing seed is as important. We save and celebrate seeds that have adapted to the extreme climactic changes that are normal to the rugged terrain of our high desert ecosystem. Our state is home to some of the longest inhabited spaces in the country. Without a deep connection to the knowledge base needed to select, harvest, and save strong seed, our long history of resilient, nourished communities would not exist.
In the transitional edge of the fall garden there are infinite opportunities to pass on this knowledge and keep the tradition alive. The radiant sunflower head is what the students are most excited about so we use it as a vehicle to discuss life, death, rebirth, and everything in between. Our plant counterparts are just like us, transitioning from young seedlings to awkward teens to mature fruiting beings and eventually back to the Earth, providing a beautiful display of the dynamic nature of life.

As we remove the seeds from the spent flower head, each garden club member complains about something different. One person is pricked by the sturdy structure that cradles the seeds. Another is perturbed by how long the process takes, but in end there is appreciation and excitement about what the future holds. “I’m going to plant these right when I get home” one student yells as another immediately begins munching on the salt-less shell. We thank the plant for sacrificing its beauty and brightness to produce seed for us and we plan for the next year, deciding to save the seeds until longer, warmer days roll around.

Learning in the fall garden reminds kids to give thanks to the Earth, for the bounty of the seasons past. As we harvest squash and pinto beans to sustain us over the winter months, a student pulls out the last zinnia, wrinkled and aged from the sun, and says how excited she is for next spring when it is warm enough to plant again. I remind her of our hardy herbs, greens, and garlic that we’re planting in the coming weeks. She smiles. I smile too.

 

By Kendal Chavez, Fellow for FoodCorps New Mexico

Annie’s + FoodCorps

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.

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