Three classes now have vermiculture systems. That means 72 students get to learn from a classroom composting system that employs wonderful worms to turn their lunch waste into valuable castings. All kinds of first, second, third, and fourth graders are experiencing nature's perfect worm recycling kit for the entire year.
In order to get the worms, students had to go through a workshop I provided to educate about what to feed and how to treat their wiggly and hard working worms.
Students learned "ten ways worms are rad" by acting out various facts about worms. Student groups created skits to communicate. Worms are blind, they are extremely sensative to touch and vibration, they eat during the night and burrow during the day (taking fertilized organic matter down with them), and have no teeth. Thousands of kinds of worms that eat almost anything exist in all corners of the world. The waste they eat passes through their digestive systems and comes back as castings with 50% more calcium and nitrogen. Worms recycle 15 tons of waste per acre of healthy soil per year; 75 tons of waste could be recycled per year on our campus with a bit of worm optimization.
Most participating lead teachers are using worm systems as a science exploration center, where students' natural curiosity and keen observation skills will develop hypothesis and scientific inquiry while driving data discovery. Students are given magnifying glasses, a scoop of worms, and time to watch and wonder. I love to read their worm journals. "I observe alot of poop." "There are blue ones and green ones and little babies." "They don't like the sun."
The office staff discovered that a pound of worms are worth $176 and now the big joke is that if a burgler ever broke in to the school, they would take the worms. We can sell worms and their castings as a fundraiser!
I introduced vermiculture systems because students requested classroom composting recepticles so they didn't "waste" biodegradable snack rubbish. Now we've got kids acting like they are worms and ladies giggling about worm doo-doo like they were third graders. Awesome.
Then along comes an adult like Melissa. Just when I start getting down about grown-ups and our general lack of vision paired with a stunning ability to throw roadblocks, along comes Melissa.
Melissa is our program's first competent, garden-loving adult with enough time to volunteer regularly. She is as stoked as I am on all the brilliant things the children say and thinks that centepedes are rad. She is as sold as I am that a healthy future includes knowledge about growing your own food, respect for nature's cycles, and the abilty to think of beings other than your own consumption. Melissa gets that the best food comes from your backyard or your friend's backyard or your own schoolyard. She has a gnack for goats and children and acknowleges the fact that we aren't going to get to the future of our dreams without giving of yourself and your personal time. She reminds me that many adults do get it and want to Be The Change.
Gardens do have angels. Our garden's angel is named Melissa. Hallelua.
One challenge I wasn't expecting when I signed on to garden teaching was dealing with adults that just don't get it. Its easy to be outside with our awesome student gardeners and bountiful butterflies and forget that there are actually adults that just don't get the whole school garden concept.
These adults live with a variety of misconceptions that concern me as an Earth worker. School is for school work, not digging in the the dirt. Budgets and financial forecasts are suffering, not bursting with bounty like the spinach we just harvested. Time is wasted with wondering about bees when deadlines and test scores scream for immediate action. And no way, no how, can schools possibly afford to pay for programs that give so much non-tangible knowledge.
Our planet can't afford such extreme adult blindness. Humanity is in a pinch that can't wait for colleges of education to deem learning about natural systems in hands-on, real-world settings like school gardens important enough to weave into the curriculum of those learning how to teach. Poor people, Island Nations, and anything that breathes doesn't have the two decades it will take to teach teachers about nature and sustainability issues and how to make that vital, food-providing information available to students. We can't wait for these newly-trained, college-degreed teachers to get jobs in schools not yet hiring.
School boards, administrative powers, and Hawaii's Board of Education are famous for disregarding concepts that don't come from their own thought centers. Heaven forbid that outsiders have ideas about how or what to instruct children to produce competent adults of the future. Math must be learned from worksheets and text books in closed rooms with plenty of electric ventilation and flourescent lighting not outside, with actual examples of real measuring, numbering, and mathmatical wizardry. So now here I am treading that fine line between introducing radical concepts like studying the science of a compost pile but enabling enough buy-in as to appear that the whole thing wasn't my idea but something that arose from within or is a new twist on an existing practice.
All the while, school adults are unified in messages to tell the kids: listen to others, be courteous, take turns, work as a team. Some adults, even in the fuzzy-touchy charter school world of team management systems and alternative education talk courtesy and sharing and trasparency up front but can't resist bullying to victory, selective listening, and setting agendas for personal priority.
More adults need to momentarily put down computers and corporate curriculum and take me up on the standing invitation to come explore our school's fascinating gardens. Perhaps grown-ups could find the wonder students so easily identify with, listen to, and learn from.
We could teach math, writing, and science and save the world along the way.
For the past few weeks, I've been showing off our new garden kitchen. Student gardeners were fasinated to find out the entire counter, sink, facet, and shade umbrella came from rubbish.
I shared the story of the kitchen that started when I drove by a shipping crate next to a dumpster and could instantly picture a kitchen counter situation. I tracked down help to strap the small structure to the roof of the truck I happened to be traveling in and drove home. The first person I saw was my neighbor who of course wondered about the big crate. I told him my plan. He walked to the back of his house and brought back the sink complete with facet. A few days, a hose, and a $3 hardware store trip later, my husband and I brought it all down to the school. The counter was the perfect dimensions for the spot in the yard by the water bib. The sink fit in the counter exactly as it was. An umbrella with a main pole that had snapped in half and was on it's way to the dump found it's way to the school at the same time.
Our garden was meant to have that little kitchen oasis.
Each sink dumps into a five gallon bucket. I asked the kids what we could do with the water. So close to some garden beds, the answer was obvious. The gray water sysytem is already allowing gardeners to track how much water we use in garden class. Can you believe that in six days of class we rescued over 80 gallons of water?
I love talking revolution, especially when it comes from a kitchen.
7/8 grade garden cooking is all about eggplant. Left from last year, the garden is blessed with a happy eggplant bush that has been producing weekly softball-sized eggplants the color of grape jelly with forest green stripes. They are lovely and don't let any Jr. higher tell you they're gross.
Gardeners first made tempura eggplant with shoyu dipping sauce. For $2.29 batter from KTA mixed with water, young cooks sliced, soaked, and fried enough tempura eggplant to feed whoever was brave enough to try. Everyone that opened their mind to the food their friends grew and prepared were darn stoked.
We also made Baba Ghanoush; a harder sell but fun food to make. Day one, we lightly salted the sliced open eggplants and let them sweat for a few minutes to draw out some bitterness. We poked holes in the skin and baked the halves in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes. Student gardeners removed the eggplant, dipped them in cold water baths, and pealed the skin. We mixed the roasted eggplant with quarter cup lemon juice, quarter cup tahini, two cloves garlic, and one cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a blender. Blended till creamy, regfrigerated over night.
Day two, IPCS Baba Ghanoush was served with wheat thins and crackers. As many students as edible scoopers would allow got to grind the ghanoush, some saying it was too spicy (garlicy), others exclaiming its excellence.
For me, the sweet feeling of victory bubbles up inside when I watch kids who normally would never think of eating eggplant try it for the first time. Willingness to experiment with foreign purple foods like eggplant comes from knowing the food was grown on their land; picked that morning by friends or their own hands. Doesn't even matter to me if they like it (most the time they do) I swear I can see walls of food intolerance tumbling down with every bite they take.
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...