What do lima beans and eggplant have in common? The inch-long beans and oddly shaped, spongy purple veggies that most adults do not have the pallet to enjoy are garden student favorites, with zero students refusing to eat them and most asking for second and third servings.
When cooked up "mexican food style" with onions, Hawaiian salt, pepper, and a bit of cheese, lima beans are a garden student favorite. This week, I stewed-up beans prior to class. I lead students in harvesting lettuce, kale, and spinach leaves and making guacamole. We cut-up banana leaves to use as plates and served the array of yummy garden leaves family-style on cutting boards in the middle of the table. Beans and guacamole were spooned onto leaf plates so students could load up fresh lettuce with burrito ingredients to make "green tacos" that had students forgetting there was no tortillas or chips involved.
In third and fourth grade classes, eggplant was harvested fresh from the garden. We diced garlic for saute in olive oil and added sliced eggplant on top of the browning garlic. Each slice of eggplant was barely sprinkled with salt to remove that eggplant bitter taste and fried to golden perfection. We added about three shreds of cheese on top of each slice and sprinkled the entire pan with chopped chives. After letting the cheese melt, eggplant slices were served on banana leaf plates and gobbled up by intrigued garden students. To my shock, no student refused to eat eggplant! Most were delighted; only one or two per class was not completely enchanted by eggplant.
When asked why using banana leaf plates helps human survival, students revealed all kinds of intriguing connections. "We can just feed our FBI when we are pau." "Cutting off that leaf helps the tree make new leaves and then we get more fresh air." "We didn't have to go to the store."
Sometimes the simple things in life - spinach picked 10 minutes before becoming taco shells, fresh lettuce, eggplant toasted to perfection, green plates - are our greatest teachers.
Students have been dissecting flowers as one of many lessons designed to learn about the role pollination plays in survival. Come to find out, flowers have boy parts and girl parts that play vital roles in life on our planet. Since human survival depends on plant survival, human destiny is interwinted with flowers and blossoms like bees on basil buds whether we know it or not. Its worth it to learn about flowers because my family has no food or oxygen without them.
Flowers have different colored and shaped petals to attract the same diversity in potential pollinators; everything from gnats to ants to finches to the wind is the human's ally. That flowers have a pollen-producing stamen fertilizing an ovary at the base of a pistil is understanding that no matter what we look like or how many video games we play, humans are bound to nature by the same basic biology. The sooner children understand just how linked our lives are to flowers and their pollinators, the better.
The actual dissecting went well, across all classes and age groups. Of the dozen or so flowers various classes took apart (two flowers per student per class), hau flowers were the most user friendly; first through sixth graders could handle slowly taking them apart. Hau is a Native Hawaiian tree related to hybiscus and okra; used in ancient times to make a die, among other things. The hau pistil is covered with stamens yeilding bright yellow mini-puffs of pollen. Hau ovaries are easy to find, with young seeds visible in a pre-bud membrane once half the petals and sepal are fingernail sliced off. Ms Melissa and I giggled at how many times we heard the excited voice of a first through fourth grader claiming, "I found my ovary!" By the time we were talking flower ovary with fifth and sixth graders, snickers were expected but other than a few boys feigning indifferance, most were just fascinated. The flower to seed cycle is visible on more than one of the hau trees in our school parking lot at any given time so students were able to see the transformation from flower to open seed pod.
Many children asked if it was ok that we were dissecting the flowers. I asked what they thought. Do you think nature would sacrifice these flowers to enable children to understand how the dance between pollinators and blossoms work? Does nature get mad when you pick a boquet? All flower reminants were added to the compost; did we waste anything?
I felt the dissection lesson was vital because I couldn't understand pollination without delving into the foreign world of flowers workings and, like so many other discoveries in the garden, I was mystified by what I learned. I just started peeling apart a flower one day, cross referenced it with a diagram I had in garden library book, and bam; an amazing lesson was born. I can't believe the array of nature's relationships and how everything works together for survival and that your average american is so close to the action but so acutely removed from the intricate life patterns in every patch of school yard or neighborhood vegitation.
Now in our third month of studying pollinators, most garden students could tell you that the relationship between flowers and insects is not random. Bugs know exactly what petal color or petal perfume they like. Flowers know how to attract enough insects to deliver pollen from stamen to pistil and enact the seed cycle of life. Most students could also tell you that many fruit and veggies we eat every day was once a flower being buzzed by a bug and our favorite steak was once a plant eater.
Do yourself a favor; pick some flowers. Carefully remove the green sepal and beautiful petals. Follow the pistil past the stamen until you find the ovary. See if you can find future seeds. We need them all to survive.
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...