Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cultivating success

A friend recently forwarded me an article in the Atlantic Monthly that made me really angry. I was all kinds of disgruntled and indignant after reading "Cultivating Failure: How school gardens are cheating our most vulnerable students" -- an attack on Alice Waters and the whole idea of incorporating food and garden experiences into the public education system. (Want to get me all worked up? Just make some snide remark about how reading is more important than weeding. Please. It's not an either/or scenario, people.) This woman must have had a bad experience involving a garden snake or a brussels sprout as a child. (I feel bad for her own kids.) Are hands-on activities that cultivate curious, joyful, well-rounded young people interfering with training them to be good standardized test takers? Goodness me, somebody sound the alarm.

I've continued to think about -- and visit -- food-related education groups quite a bit along the bikeable feast. Life Lab (which, like me, has been around since the late 70s) is the kind of program model I adore. If only I could help to replicate something like this on the east coast. (Yep, I'm still an East Coast Girl, all told, though mom and dad are convinced I'll find somewhere new to call home before I make my way back. The people and food around Santa Cruz are putting in a pretty strong bid. Must...resist...chantrelles....) On the UC Santa Cruz site, there's a demonstration garden, outdoor kitchen, beautiful walkways and signs and plants, and a small staff of knowledgeable, personable educators who clearly love what they do and love to share what they know. The space itself is a dream. Walking through for the first time during a brief sunny spell last Monday afternoon in Santa Cruz, I noted a wide variety of things to observe, taste, smell, and learn about. I found myself giddily counting the number of different fruit tree varieties, prancing over to the human sundial, enumerating the plants in the pizza garden...and daydreaming about working with a similar program back in DC. When I returned to the garden on Wednesday afternoon -- I, um, happened to be there around the same time as a group on a pre-conference field trip for EcoFarm -- I learned more about the fantastic Life Lab and UCSC Agroecology program that houses it from John and Whitney. It turns out that in addition to daily tours (except in the winter, when it drops to 2 tours per week) with school groups, Life Lab's UCSC Garden Classroom program (which works primarily with elementary school kids) and Food What?! (focused on high schoolers -- I wish they'd gotten back to me, I have tons of questions) offer all kinds of workshops and farm/garden/kitchen resources to educators across Santa Cruz county and beyond. They've partnered with local schools to start gardens and develop lessons in line with CA state curricula. I know I've maligned standards-based education on the blog (and to anyone within a 100-foot radius of my person) a few times, but using a garden and/or kitchen to round out the book learning can only be a good thing, it seems to me.

Speaking of farm-and-garden-oriented youth programs, I am just now realizing I neglected to mention another awesome organization I had the good fortune to learn about: Berkeley Youth Alternatives. Well, gardening is just one piece of the nonprofit's work, which also includes after-school tutoring, counseling, and teen job placement. (I was reminded of the program when I bumped into the garden manager, Kim, at an EcoFarm workshop last Thursday. Small world.) The 2 gardens comprise a rather small part of the overall organization, but the opportunity to learn about the natural world, to grow food for themselves and for donation to a local food pantry, to have a peaceful green space in the midst of the chaos that is an adolescent's daily life make the BYA gardens an indispensable part of the counseling and mentoring program. Developing the *whole* person -- what a concept.

Oh, my, look at the time. Speaking of nurturing young ones, I need to get back outside and help Becky feed the baby lambs.... Yep, you read that correctly. More details on adventures in bottle feeding lambs and making sheep's milk cheese to come....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. I thought of you when I read that Atlantic Monthly article and I fully agree with your take on it.


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