We had a casualty in class today; a sweet, espresso-brown speckled Hawaiian gecko. She got pinched between two bricks as some enthusiastic 3/4th graders worked together making a new bed. I walked up as the children were checking out the lovely reptile with the tenderness of respectful discoverers.
The gecko was laying so still in their hands because a pinky sized divot was gouged out of her abdomen. The sweet reptile was gasping for air with a wide mouth but laying perfect and still. The children were being gentle and kind in their handling but as I approached I knew Little Gecko was not going to make it. I asked them what the humane thing to do was. Should I put her down in an instant or bury her to suffocate for a while?
In a split second, the children went from frolicking in planting delight to staring death and suffering directly in the face. Before I knew it, these kids were deciding a critter's fate.
"Kill it fast." "It's not fair to make it suffer." "It was an accident." "We should make it quick so it doesn't hurt." "So sad." "Poor little guy."
With a handful of boys and girls in a circle around the gecko, I said a quick blessing. I said we were thankful for the life of the gecko, that we meant no harm to her, that we were sorry to see her go. Out of respect for her life, we would never choose her suffering. With no gecko hospital and no hope of recovery with a gash like that, we had no choice but to send her back to the soil.
It seems a little hardcore now but I used my large shovel to sever her and send it's body back to the garden. We touched the soil to send positive energy to the FBI who would be fed.
The children all picked flowers and special stones and made a mini shrine for the gecko in the middle of the new garden bed we had been making. Nick even grabbled a blue pen and a stick to make a headstone. "Geko. We love you."
School is back in session! The garden is alive with children once again. The garden grew into a bean jungle over the summer months. Ms. Melissa and I tried extra super hard to keep from fighting back the aggressive vine so children could enjoy the remarkable growth.
Student gardeners were absolutely delighted to re-discover their garden. Our bean tunnel grew into a bean cave! Some students discovered a palm-sized garden spider cocooning up a three-inch centipede for lunch. It was like orca vs. great white shark in our garden. Who would have known the spider would win? We watched a gecko snatch a different spider, and then spit it out. The gecko crawled away with the bug the spider had been wrapping up. The spider was left with its' barren web and no lunch. We saw butterflies mating and found a few praying mantis'. Grasshoppers the color of limes were bombing the entire garden - fluttering around disturbed for the first time in months.
I was excited to watch children running for their favorite herb snacks - mint and licorice fennel among their favorites. We dined on juicy starfruit, guava, and bananas. "A monkey was here!" exclaimed a new first grader who discovered empty yellow banana peals on the ground. He looked up and found the rest of the thriry-pound banana pod still on the tree. "Can we eat some too?" he inquired.
The first class I took into the garden found a huge stinging nettle munching some spinach. We were reminded of the bummer and extreme shame that these invasive species bring to our perfect Island habitat. I was thankful that the student was not stung and I got a specimen to show the rest of the garden students. I was reminded that telling the children the truth about the hazards we import into our Island in the name of ornamental palms is the only way to keep them safe; both so our littlest explorers of the wild don't get hurt and so they can make change someday.
I told every class that they are the hope for the future. There was a day in Hawaii where every person was a gardener who knew how to grow the food needed to fill their own bellies and that of their family's. Now, 1-2% of our population are farmers (that statistic is reflected nationally and locally) and the average age of those farmers is 65 years and older.
I hope the satisfaction our students receive from growing their own food while they are in elementary school will produce the radical change we need for a healthy future. Wonder Garden students are planting the seeds for a healthy future and they know it!!
What better way to study inventions but to design them yourself? What better way to learn how easy it is to recycle water than to design a drainage system that enables every student to water plants when they wash their hands?
I am bursting with hope for the future to announce that our third and forth grade gardeners have sucessfully designed and implemented a beautiful and functional greywater system off the wasted art room sink water. Where once a drain poured perfectly useful dirty water into the gravel now lies a bamboo french drain irrigating 10 feet of space.
The greywater system is a school-wide effort. Seventh and eighth grade gardeners harvested and hauled old-growth bamboo from a friend's coffee farm. Third and fourth graders worked with IPCS Fascilities Specialist Alex Garcia using a simple wedge to split in half longways yellow-with-green-stripes bamboo the circumference of my thigh and approx 8 feet long. Students loved seeing the power of the humble wedge at work. Mr. G brought the ever-popular power drill so students could take turns drilling drain holes the legnth of the bamboo. And students lined up patiently for their turn with the awesome power sander for the smooth finishing touch.
Another class of third and fourth grades carried the bamboo to the greywater site. They hacked out spider lilies taller than they are with the efficency of a herd of beavers. Students dug a trough to lay the system's pipe, connected the bamboo to the sink drain pipe, and turned on the facet for a test run.
But alas, like any new invention, it did not work right at first. Too wide were the holes, too tall were the segment separaters in the bamboo, and not enough slope prevented water from trickling more than five inches.
I was amazed that within a few powerful seconds of thought, more than one inventor noted that added height would work with gravity to push more water down the bamboo and rocks could easily help plug the holes. We rigged up a support system for the drain connector and dug a trough to help stabalize the bamboo pipe.
Our whole ohana can see now how simple ingenuity can help recycle water. Using greywater efficiently will be a huge resource in upcoming decades. With these inventors at the helm of our country, we should be able to incorporate greywater systems into the everyday fiber of our existance.
Somehow becoming garden teacher also became becoming waste coordinator. I call myself "sustainability coordinator," but that is really just a fancy term for being responsible for making planet-friendly choices for 164 children's and 37 staff member's daytime trash. When I first started teaching, I was flabergasted by the amount of trash filling the cans after every day; some of the rubbish biodegradable, some recyclable, some reusable. There was the youth of America learning how to clean-up their messes in oblivious tosses at large containers that are taken away by nameless, faceless people and emptied into larger vats until they reach the last, hugest vat - the dump. Just like it was circa 1985 when I was in school. Public school has to be the change we want to see in the world. Obviously the situation was ripe for recycling efforts. I didn't think twice about setting up the basics, and it only took a few months to set up the rest.
IPCS now recycles cardboard, paper, aluminum, plastic 1,2,5, HI 5 aluminum, HI 5 plastics, batteries, capri-suns, and compost. Mr. G built our school's "Recycling Headquarters." Our public school is a recycling model for other institutions. Our first graders could tell you all kinds of information about recycling and some children even bring in their family's cardboard because they don't want to throw it away. Mr. G and I were trying to figure out the story behind some surprise Heineken bottles that showed up and found out that a fourth grader had brought them from home.
I am thrilled by all the recycling hooplah at our school. But the fact is, a public school can only have a concerted recycling effort with a go-to staff person. I made myself that person so I often find myself with fermented juice splattered all down my leg, or hauling 30 pound bags of paper like a recycling Santa.
But today I wasn't alone. Several A+ students shared the responsibility of removing the straws, squirting out left-over juice, and flattening capri-sun pouches. It is my least favorite self-imposed responsibility. You have to dodge cockroaches and lava beetles sqirming out of the capri-sun depths. You gotta watch out for the spray that goes off target and showers rotting sugar water all over your legs and slippers to form sticky juice mud. I was thrilled to safely engage students in the grossest job we got and they were helpful, smart, and inquisitive. We talked all about up-cylcing and lava beetles and cockroaches and native gechos and non-native gechos and centipedes and plastics that never go away and landfills. They successfully strategized an effective team method of doing the work and chatted the whole time.
I learned that being the change means engaging the youth in the change at every step. Even the capri-suns.
Wow, the new school year is off to a rolicking start. First week back, garden students harvested over 30 lbs of produce in one class! Tangerines, papaya, and startfruit were falling into the baskets of eager children. Dozens of public school students got to pick a tangerine or starfruit and eat it, juice dripping everywhere, straight off the branch. The trees were planted by student gardeners three short years ago to help offset our school's carbon footprint. Sixth graders remember digging holes in the lava for the tangerine trees as third graders, amending soil with compost and bone meal, and rolling the pottless trees into their final growing place. How lucky to pick and eat the fruits of their labor.
Last week Ms. Melissa busted out her milking goats. One full grown milker, Nui Goat, and her recently weened baby, Ili Goat, joined us in garden class. I should say "starred" in class because the goats couldn't help but be the rightful center of attention. We talked random goat facts - prey animals so they are jumpy, domesticated for 8000 years, offering humans fuel, food, manure, milk, lawn-mowing, and hides - to demonstrate the animal's awesomeness. Students watched Ms. Melissa prep Nui Goat for milking and then milk her with the gentle hands of an old friend. Ms. Melissa even shared some of her all homemade goat cheese mixed with guava jelly and served on ricotta bread. Delicious!
Talk about udders and teets lasted all day. I didn't know goats have two teets where cows have four or that goat milk is naturally homogenized (creme and milk mixed rather than separated like cow milk). At least one child per class did not know that male goats don't make milk. Goats have striking horizontal pupils that allow greater depth perception than round pupils like ours. Goats are more fascinating that I game them credit for.
At first squeemish about watching someone milk an animal let alone trying goat cheese, children reconsidered when we started picturing hot cheese pizza or luscious ice cream. Many a favorite food comes from the udder of an animal. Why not consider this one that lives in our ahupua'a, is fed prime Kona vegitation, and Ms. Melissa's good friend?
Animals and the services they provide humans is notable. Is it better for our Island, for survival, to employ animals that are close to where we live? Is raw goat milk different than pasturized cow milks? If you want to survive off your own farm, is a goat a good animal to have around? How does knowing or personally farming the animals that provide food affect survival?
Important questions with great conversations for sure but far less convincing than the delicious creme of homemade goat cheese. Everyone except a few 1/2 graders thought Ms. Melissa's pupu creation was exceptional. Nui Goat was shy with most, but decided to lick on and gently nudge one fifth grader who has trouble in classroom settings but is a superstar in the garden. After class he came to me and said, "Ms. Krista, that was my favorite lesson ever."
Thanks Ms Melissa for providing such a unique and impactful opportunity for our gardeners!
We dug out our biggest load of compost yet; dank-smelling, black, fluffy soil teaming with life and wiggly with worms. Students couldn't believe what could happen when we trap biodegradable school waste and let FBI go to work.
Last year's lessons on amending nutrients to soil turns out to be spot on. We reviewed how various classes had gathered and added human hair, cow manure, ash, cooked and crushed chicken bone, shredded paper, molassas, egg shells, and banana stalks in purposeful attempts to put all those needed nutrients back into the soil. Maybe weird to humans, but for microorganisms that stuff is a treat! We ammended compost so microorganisms could go to town eating plenty and recycling waste.
We are talking about about microorganisms this year in terms of FBI - fungus, bacteria, invertibrates. Fungus = mushrooms; Bacteria = microscopic worm food. Seeing worms means biodegrading bacteria is present. I = Invertibrates; visible bugs like cockroaches, roly polies, springtails, and the critters that eat them like spiders and centipedes. The wheelbarrow compost had diverse FBI for miles. It was an FBI party in there.
Gardeners carefully scooped compost and surrounded their favorite plant's soil area with compost. To tuck-in nicely the FBI, they covered the compost with a scoop of mulch. Worms and vital microorganisms were spread everywhere! The garden was sparkling with good vibes sprinkled in every corner. "Oh little worm!" "You are so cute." "Look! This worm's dancing!"
How can a garden keep from glowing with all this compost and love?
The Big Island is blessed by the Soil Whisperer. Gene has dedicated his life to studying soil and sharing the information he has discovered. Yesturday, garden students were lucky enough to hear Gene's knowledge and share in his enthusiastic, hopeful vibe. Gene's message is that soil health = plant health = human health. When he talks soil health, he means literally examining the mineral and vitamin content of soil, discovering that added vitamins and minerals in depleted soil means added vitamins and minerals in human bellies. After decades of agricultural poison, synthetic fertilizers, deforestation, and other means of abuse, the earth's soil has become depleted of the vital nutrients that feed the microorganisms and macroorganisms in soil. These important soil organisms ingest nutrients, breaking vitamins and minerals down into forms usable by plant roots. Plants internalize these nutrients, maximizing the plant's health and making them available for human consumption. Without added nutrients in our soil, plants need more water, are ruthlessly attacked by insects that know where to get an easy meal, and humans are eating food empty of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. In Hawaii, we import 90% of our food; food that is depleted of nutrients, transported by boat across the Pacific, and then fumigated to kill bugs. Gene came yesturday to begin the process of amending our school's garden soil so the fruits and veggies we grow are full of the vitamins and minerals children need for healthy growth.
Garden students were happy to learn from the Soil Whisperer. They were shocked to hear that these basic connections between soil health and human health are actually radical scientific thought. Mainstream science does not embrace Gene's methods of improving soil health, instead siding with the use of more chemicals and more water to make up for any soil shortcomings.
Gene the Soil Whisperer is a modern day Rachel Carson, and our school, our Island, are blessed to have him.
My first day blogging about kids and gardening. So many my age are filled with cynisism and fear. I am filled with hope because I get to work with the adults of tomorrow. Kids today get it. Kids get that we have some major social and environmental issues to solve. They get it way more than I did when I was their age. This blog is to share the hope I recieve from the hard working, humorous, youth of today via garden class.
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...