Spring is in the air. Butterflies are everywhere and children are squirley.
Perfect time to wrap the school year up with healthy garden recipes grown, made, shared, by students.
Eat from a rainbow! Fresh fancy your foods!: My mantra for the last two weeks and next two weeks. To eat from a rainbow means eating all kinds different color foods from nature. Not skittle rainbow colors. At the end of the day, we should think back and note we ate a variety of different colors.
Fancy fresh your foods mean to find ways to sneak in some fresh foods into prepared foods like spaghetti sauce, saimin, smoothies, and quesadillas. A handful of spinach in a smoothie is a great way to camp something you don't really want to eat.
Last week, we fancied up rice with a stir fry from the garden. Colors like green, red, orange, yellow appeared. Kids started cutting and tearing. Chatting with each other in an ancient dance of humans - preparing food together. Smells started temping even the biggest doubter. Shoyu sealed the deal.
We ate everything on banana leaf plates with our fingers. Mostly. Students declared delight and horfed down seconds like it was bbq or something.
Kids will eat plain sautéed fennel and go off about how awesome it was on if they grew it. Even better if they cooked it.
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."
We finally broke ground in our garden today! 7/8 graders planted a new papaya forest in expanded "community garden" space. 3/4 graders planted a whole patch of kalo. 1/2 graders planted a raised bed full of cilantro and 5/6 graders built a trellis and then planted green beans along its base. Using drenched shredded office paper to define beds and make a "paper trail" for our feet was a big hit and will hopefully remind students to walk with careful feet instead of tromping through the garden.
We harvested and made the world's biggest batch of salsa with 24 third and forth graders with the cherry tomatoes from their lanai garden. Classroom lead teacher Ashley Hedeman brought onions and chips. I borrowed some cilantro from the jr. high garden. All children worked together to pick tomatoes. All chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onions; squeezed fresh lime, sprinkled salt, or dashed pepper. The hungry hungry gardner mostly grinded it all. They topped it all with a classroom writing project about process papers on "how to make salsa." Ms. Hedeman was already impressed with student's choices of vivid words.
Busy day in the garden today and a wonderful way to make good use of the new moon. Students were hardworking and diligent and excited to plant food.
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.
Today was a particularly squirlly day. I learned that if I ever need to get the attention of a 6th grader, I can just do some one arm pull-ups. (We have a bar that frames the edge of our classroom tent; perfect for pull-ups.) I thought one student's eyes were going to pop out of his skull at the sight of a teacher busting out some one arms. I always could count on that student to take a wheelbarrow and trek the 300 yards across campus to our mulch pile by himself or with a friend. Now I know I can.
The class went silent and I didn't have to raise my voice once.
FBI = Fungus, Bacterica, Invertibrates = Nature's recyclers. A clever play on words. Not only is FBI a famous local-only surf clothing line, From Big Island, but he acronym rolls off the tongue of even a first grader for some odd reason. We talk about FBI in class as the world's most efficient recyclers. The miracle is that without FBI there would be no way for the nutrients in a papaya peal to get to the starfruit. We can help FBI work by providing layers of green (fresh, nitrogen) and brown (old, carbon) to feed the maximum FBI. And we can whacking back garden jungle to create compost piles.
Teamwork and effective tool use are two important components of the kind of work needed to build big compost piles. I have to be on constant watch during hard core tool work because little children have no idea of spacial awareness. The most well-meaning first grader will throw their biggest shovel dig with a friend right next to them or run down a gravel hill holding clippers no problem. Jobs were bean picking, bean shelling, rock moving, vegetation clipping.
On the way to a more controlled garden, students discovered everything from Hawaiian Blind Snakes to white cockroaches, to a spider eating a centipede. Teams of students no one would have put together join to move rocks or clip a tunnel. Most gardeners get into a groove and go to town working for the earth until I tell them its time to clean up.
Our students work hard like FBI. Kids and microorganisms have more in common than I thought.
I am totally enchanted by my herbal medicine magic class. They are eight kids strong, grades 1-5; overflowing with excitement to be in the garden and wowed by herbs.
We spent the first class making journals and collecting leaf specimens. I told them that in Hawaii the first people that grew medicine here honored garden gods and goddesses by introducing oneself and leaving an offering. The offering could be a song or a shell, but a blessing should be left whenever an herbal practitioner harvests their medicine.
We sang the first verse of "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." as a gift for the herbs.
Little people barely able to traverse the garden without tripping because they are so small, with journals and pencils in hand rushed into our overgrown garden like they were going to the fair. "This is lemongrass. The tea is good for your brain, " I told them. Immediately, mini fingers reaching out for leaf samples. Just as immediately, "Ms. Krista can I have tape?" They secured samples into journals students made out of scratch paper.
We examined 15 herbs/weeds around the campus, and took notes about each one.
Last class, I handed out the herb collection bags I made them out of my old t-shirts (that's not gross is it?) and made medicinal infusions. Students copied down that an infusion is cooking the healing properties of an herb into another substance like water or oil. They also wrote down two magical recipes. Children gathered equal parts mint, lavender, and lemon balm to make a tummy settling, restful tea and a little rosemary and a lot of lemongrass to make a brain energizing tea.
The washed herbs were cut up and placed in a big pot on the garden hot plate by careful children. I got crazy and let them sweeten the concoctions with agave nectar (none of them had tasted it and of course they all wanted seconds). Back in the day, traditional Hawaiian medicine was often given with plenty sugar cane to make it palatable. "I like this infusion Ms. Krista!" shouted one second grader. Most treated the yummy and healthful teas like treasure and preserved them by replacing the water in their take-home bottles with their tasty new healing remedy.
My classes with these inspired young gardeners are no less than enchanting. When these kids enter the garden, butterflies are more colorful and birds more singsongy. Next week Medicine Woman Darlene and her husband Earl are coming to herbal magic class to talk about the wonders of ginger! Enchanted again!
Our seventh and eighth grade gardeners were stoked to tame the jungle in their garden. These lucky kids get to use machetes and sickles so they are extra excited to get to whacking. Of course, it was hot, so many worked for about 20 minutes before getting too sweaty to carry on. The sweaty kids moved to the shade to take plastic tape off the cardboard we used to cover the land after we whacked down the weeds. The whacked down weeds and grass will be great biomass to create soil once they are dead. The cardboard smothers unwanted vegetation; no poison necessary and we get to reuse rubbish. Some students relished in the time to hack down banana stalks and remove big rocks. Now, we get to let nature take it's course and spend the next few weeks on garden field trips and eating fruit!
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!!
Krista Joan says:
My mission is to teach, train, and testify in resistance to the white supremacy of my ancestors. My personal choices are political, powerful, and practical. Let's trash waste.