Last year, as a FoodCorps service member, I often had this moment after serving in a school garden when I would think, “kids say the darndest things while working in school gardens.”
This often came after a kid said something like: “This soil smells like Jesus!” or “Why do adults sell us sugar if they know it’s bad for us?” These humdingers would linger in my mind for hours, making me laugh or keeping me up all night while I tried to explain the answer. A few weeks ago, while driving back from a garden build with adult volunteers in Wilmington, NC, I realized there’s no age restriction: people say the darndest things while working in school gardens.
I’m the FoodCorps Fellow in North Carolina and am mostly in the backup business these days. My job is to be a statewide support to our service members all around the state. On this particular morning, I left Durham at 4:30am to get to the garden build by 8am. I was there to assist the service member in Wilmington who would be leading a group of University volunteers to rebuild an elementary school garden.
I got to the garden site a few minutes early. There were five or six cars full of early twentysomethings. We had to gut the whole garden, build new beds, and bring in a whole lot of compost mix. The service member and I perceived varying amounts of enthusiasm from our volunteers. They had come with a student organizer who was incredibly enthusiastic and a few others who were obviously committed serial volunteers. But then there was the rest of our group, full of people who had community service hours to fulfill for different classes.
One was a young man who was in a business class, interested in financial accounting; he made it very clear that he was only there because he had to be. I am something of a closet case economics nerd and business enthusiast, so, like it or not, this grumpy-saurus became the target of my camaraderie.
This turned out to be a good move because some of the other young men seemed to look up to him, so if I asked him for help, he would get them to help, and all of a sudden we had a group of folks getting some serious work done. We started by removing hundreds of flat stones that had been used to make up the old garden beds. Moving these stones gave way to building new beds, which gave way to filling them.
With varying levels of enthusiasm, we managed to finish rebuilding the beds earlier than expected. People even started talking to each other, and maybe even enjoying themselves, and they had accomplished a task that they even respected.
Someone sheepishly asked, “So, are we done? Or do you need any more help?” All the stones that had been used to make the old beds were strewn all over the place, so I suggested everyone pick up three or four stones, then we’d make short work of clean up. As we were picking up the stones, my business buddy just stood watching. Just as I was thinking some pretty disparaging things about his work ethic, he picked up two stones and asked in a loud voice, “What if we cobbled between the beds?”
A few students and I walked over and looked at what he was talking about. This uninterested, forced-volunteer had a great, beautiful idea. Everyone threw in and started grabbing stones and cobbling. We worked for another two hours, laughing and cobbling. When we finished, we hosed off the stones and looked at what we’d done. It was awesome.
Everyone pitched in and cleaned up. The young businessman came over and asked me who was going to plant the garden. I told him the elementary students, but if he was interested they could probably use some help. Turns out he was interested.
I spent most of my three-hour drive home thinking about the moment when he asked, “What if we cobble between the beds?” I shook my head smiling as I drove home and remembered cursing him under my breath.
Kids People say the darndest things in school gardens.
By Sebastian Naskaris, FoodCorps Fellow, North Carolina.
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.