Garden class gives IPCS a green boost. Earth consciousness results when kids put their hands in the soil and are encouraged to make practical life connections. Once kids go to the green side, its gonna be hard to go back to the dark; it couldn't be more true than at IPCS.
School started Tuesday with our end-of-the-year pancake breakfast social. Parents, students, staff, and community members got together for an all-you-can-eat pancake feast before school. Kids running around with massive mounds of pancakes, moms and dads chatting over coffee, up and coming sibblings exploring campus crannies, Jr. High band playing Jack Johnson songs; I think the coolest part of the social is it's greenness. Plates, forks, cups, and foods are biodegradeable, so we just bring out wheelbarrows to use as trash cans for easy hauling to the school's compost bins. John from PATH was the green cherry on top of the social with his bike blender that enabled students to peddle power some homemade whip creme. We've minimized the impact our tri-yearly social has on the earth by composting, recycling, asking parents to bring their own coffee mugs, making juice from concentrate, using a jug to dispense water, and forgoing the pre-made whip creme that comes in those bullet-proof aresol cans.
Now that our ohana has experienced the satisfaction of having a party that leaves virtually zero negative footprint on our island, it will be hard to go back. To gorge on pancakes with no green guilt about tossing the plate and fork you used for 10 minutes of self-fulfilling griddle grazing to rot for a few hundred years makes it harder to go back to filling that landfill.
Little did I know that 7/8 grade garden class would herald more garden-born green inspiration. A student asked me if I would be willing to take gardeners to O'oma rezoning hearings, scheduled for May 5, at the King Kamehameha Hotel. These hearings are to gather public testimony about a corporation's proposed appliction to re-zone a currently "conservation" zoned ahupua'a just north of some of the only open space shoreline left in Kona. O'oma is but up against the ahupua'a which homes the waves most kids in kona learn to/are learning to surf on. The rezoning proposal is to make the area "urban" so a plan to put 300 shops and 1,200 dwellings can go forward.
My students voiced concerns about the possible effects development would have on the ocean. They've learned that land and ocean are connected through the ahupua'a system. How will more urban zones, one less conservation zone, affect their surf? THEY were asking ME to take them to a hearing. The future taxpayers want to see how it goes down.
I get to take garden students to the hearing. I wouldn't have thought of it myself though. It took the gardeners to make the connection between class lessons and ocean health at O'oma.
I have a feeling that the green side at IPCS is just a fraction of the force of the future; cause once you go green, there's no going back.
Our soil analysis results indicated a severe lack of nitrogen in our garden. What better source for nitrogen than manure? Our soil's nitrogen deficiency is inhibiting the microbial action needed to produce optimal plant health and human nutrition. Almost completely nitrogen, the poop from grass fed animals can be an effective amendment to tip soil scales in the direction of nitrogen. Our school sits butt-up against a large cow pasture so copeous amounts of cow manure is available for the free pickin.
"I like that we made a way to scoop mulch as a team and everyone else copied what we were doing," observed a first grade girl with flower behind her ear as we munched jaboticaba and reflected on the day's garden experiences.
Sure enough, she and a friend developed an assembly-line style shoveling method so they didn't have to weave back and forth between the mulch pile, the wheelbarrow, and other shovelers. Instead they stood in place, the first person scooping mulch, then dumping it into the shovel of the next person, on down the line until the scoop was finally dumped into the wheelbarrow. Sure, the method took a few minutes longer and lost mulch along the way but it was safer because small children holding shovels twice their size did not have to duck and weave between other working shovel holders. Their method was copied by another crew, and by the time I walked to the hose and back, the wheelbarrows were full, no one took a shovel to the face, kids were smiling and discussing who got to drive the wheelbarrow back to the garden.
I was stoked that the crew of mini-workers were so stoked about their team approach to shoveling. Another unexpected gem of wisdom from a practicle little girl noting the satisfaction she recieved from leading effectively and creating a workable system. There is no way of measuring teamwork learning that occurs in garden class because lessons seep into everyday life. No garden grows by itself; it takes a village to feed a village. Leave it to the littlest gardeners at all to remind me of this simple fact.
We got the results of our soil analysis: our garden patch is low in calcium, phosphorous, potassium, nitrogen, and has choke sodium. The salt inhibits the soil's absorption of nutrients like iron and helps throw off the whole underground mineral balance.
OK. I get it. The land has been ignored and evaporated upon for years, blistering under the Kona sun and packed hard by hooves of maurading cows. Nutrients drain out and salt builds up. To grow nutritionally balanced food, gardeners need to add depleted minerals to the soil and rebalance the 'aina the way natural way; with organic materials that decay and invite rampant microbial activity. Everything from nature gets recycled in nature - ash, bones, feathers, leaves, shells, hair - that's how all the different minerals get in the soil in the first place. We can now replecate these organic materials in tidy forms and sell them.
Problem. I barely get this scientific soil stuff. How do I translate these basic garden concepts to children in ways we/they can understand? And without going and buying the prescribed poundage of granulated minerals in bags, produced somewhere on the mainland, transported across the sea on a boat, sold for more than we can afford, and then hand sprinkled on soil like brown rain? Do uniform brown granuals mean anything to the minds of youth?
My answer was to come up with feel-able, hold-able, all-natural mineral representations of the nutrients we are missing in the garden. It may take longer and be a harder route, but it will be free, sustainable, natural, and done by the empowered hands of patient children.
Students learned how to make soil potion with a variety of organic materials that will feed our microbes a more balanced diet, so we, in turn, can have more balanced soil and healthy harvests.
We started with a bucket of water, set out overnight so chlorine can evaporate. "Why Ms. Krista?" at least one student in every class asked. "Well, what does chlorine in a pool do?" "Kills bugs." "So what will the chlorine do to the good microbes we are trying to create in our potion?" "Kill them." "Exactly." "Oh."
Next we added a few tablespoons of spoiled milk. "EEWWWWW!! Ms. Krista, that's gross." "Well, why does your auntie or dad tell you to drink milk?" "Cause it's got calcium." "What does our soil need?" "Calcium!!" "What do you do with spoiled milk at home?" "Pour it down the sink." "Me too. Until last week. Is it more pono to pour milk down the sink or feed the microbes in your soil or compost?" "Feed the microbes!!"
Third came egg shells, cracked up and cooked down in my oven at home. "Gross!" "Rad!" "More importantly," I say, "another source of calcium and iron."
Fourth was molassas. "What's molassas?" "Oh that smells like ginerbread cookies." I told them, "Molassas is a product of sugar cane. It's pre-sugar. Let's read the label. Look - calcium, potassium, iron, and no sodium." Many children swiped a finger across the stream of molassas for a tiny taste with varied results, but I was stoked that so many willing fingers shot out and went away unfazed.
Last came compost. "It's all brown now!!" "There's bugs in there!!" they, without fail, exclaimed. "That's right," I explained. "And what happens when your family comes over? When family you haven't seen in a while comes to visit?" "We eat!" "We have parties!" "That's right," I imagined out loud, and microbes do too. The microbes that are now in this compost tea are going to meet up with thier microbe family in the garden and eat and party. What will that do to our soil?!!" "Add nutrients," One-Child-In-Every-Group observed.
Gardeners took turns stiring our soil brew. We hauled the bucket to the garden and used small pots to scoop water in gentle spouts on soil, not plants. We were feeding the soil, not the plants.
To top it all off, gardeners sipped lemongrass/chocolate mint tea. Soil and human may differ in tea tastes, but our nutritional needs are essentially the same. Soil tea taught me (and hopefully each student), that what is good for the soil is good for me.
Mrs. Hawkin's 1/2 grade class caught a praying mantis. Held for observation in a see-through tub, it is the duty of any good garden teacher to nurture insect observation with fresh mantis food. On Mrs. Hawkin's request, I grabbed one third grader and two first graders to help me trap food for the hungry mantis.
"Awesome!!!" said the boys as they ran off the to Blue Daze hedge - a grasshopper lair and small boy magnet. The children seem to simply know where bugs hang out. Maybe it's their close proximity to the ground or their unbridled curiosity and general lack of schedule, but given the time and freedom to explore nature, children will uncover where all the cool bugs and lizards cruise; handy know-how when its time for Mantis feeding.
The bug hunters quickly caught three grasshoppers and ran, with cupped hands and loud exclamations of their hunting prowess, back to Mrs. Hawkins lanai. The boys worked together to pop open the tub and quickly insert the three surprised grasshoppers.
Mantis went right to work stalking the leggy lunch. In less than a minute, the Green King of the Tub turned it's lime face and mirrored eyes in a subtle gaze straight at the nearest grasshopper. In a blink of an eye and one swift swoop, the bewildered veggie-eater was snached and inserted into Mantis's mouth. Mantis started with Grassy's head, eating away like it was munching corn on the cob. We watched with grotesque fascination as Mantis' bottom jaw opened up with mandables that simultaneously held and dimembered the grasshopper. Mantis even paused to look directly at us. The whole scene was straight out of Aliens vs Predator, except this death was totally natural; the real stuff wildlife safaris are made of.
Since that first feeding, we have captured enough Mantis food that we are getting to know it's diet. An afternoon feeder, Mantis will ignore bugs until dinnertime. Mantis doesn't waste a glance at flies, stink bugs, and crickets but gorges on grasshoppers, bees, and cockroaches. Children imitate the Mantis Dance; gentle swaying motions followed with swift snatches. They try to get Mantis to look at them with its green lake eyes that make you feel observed, even when its Mantis in the jar.
Mantis' food hunters earned the right to name the new class pet: Jabba the Mantis. May the force be with you, Jabba.
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...