Breaking the news about GMO to a group of JR Highers is heavy. They look at you with a weird stare and listen quietly. They remember technical words like genes and virus. They sit still.
Today we talked GMO. I taught this subject several times now, to different 7/8 graders. All reacted the same; almost like they'd been waiting for the information.
I tell them straight that Genetically Modified Organisms break my heart. I get choked up at the thought of GMO's wild in their world, left for them to deal with someday. I don't want to be the one to burst the bubble, but then, I do want to make sure all middle schoolers are introduced to the concept of gene modification before they vanish to high school.
Youth are waiting for the information. They don't get down about the psyco-knarly potential of GMO like I do; they are still kids. But I see their brains working, and every student takes the time to take the information in.
My co-worker Ms. Jenny told me today that she agrees with a youtube video she saw that says universal forces are working together with us Earthlings, to help and guide humanity in the right direction. I agree with them both. GMO-attentive middle schoolers are key to positive cultural evolution.
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."
A third grade boy with big brown eyes and freckles raised his hand in reflection circle to share an observation from the day's work. We had spent the class moving rocks and clipping back invasive grass. In the process, we uncovered plenty worms; worms half the length of a spaghetti noodle and the circumference of an electric wire flopping around in their always fascinating Exposed Dance.
He said, "I noticed lots of FBI (Fungus, Bacteria, Invertibrates). And I noticed that worms help us dig. I was finding worm tunnels to get my hand in and help get out the rocks."
"What effect do you think worm holes have on the roots of plants?" I asked?
His eye brows shot up and he said, "I know! The roots can use the holes to grow!"
And poof, just like that these brilliant young gardeners put together something I had to study to know. I read that worms help aerate the soil and provide paths for stretching roots in a book somewhere when I was learning about worms so I could teach about them in garden class just seven years ago. And this boy just taught himself, from his own hands in the soil, at nine.
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!
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...