From the Ground Up: Garden Love Month in a Brave New Year

Each school year, we ask teachers to evaluate our program. There are questions about academics and the effectiveness of our instructors and volunteers. We receive wonderful, constructive feedback.
We also ask teachers to share about non-academic skills they observed their students learning during garden sessions. Far and away the most common response is cooperation. One teacher wrote, “Students learned how to work as a community to care for things around us.” Another noted that her students learned, “to cooperate with others and help each other.” Yet another: “Gardening, problem-solving, collaboration.” This isn’t by chance. It is based on core values at School Garden Project.
Today’s classroom includes tremendous diversity: ethnic, religious, gender, learning ability, physical ability, and more. The classroom is a mirror for our larger society. School Garden Project strives to be respectful and inclusive in all that we do: toward the children we teach; toward the teachers with whom we work; toward the volunteers who give their time; toward the generous community members who donate to make our work possible.
We don’t engage in politics. Our role is to provide science education to students by using their school gardens as an outdoor classroom. When children learn in the garden, they are active and engaged. To top it all off, they graze what they’ve planted, learning to eat healthy food. No politics. Period.
Core values form the basis of our work at School Garden Project. Students learn respect—for the plants and insects in the garden; for each other and their differences; for themselves and their health. They learn about inclusion of diversity for healthy gardens, ecosystems, and social systems. They are taught that safety is paramount in the garden—taking care of themselves and each other, with careful support and supervision from adults. They learn about kindness.
During the past few months, the societal values that help us teach children to work together as a community have been rocked. Our instructors met their students in the garden and encountered fear and bullying. Suddenly there was a sense that it was okay to taunt those who are different. There was uncertainty about the fate of a brother or sister, a mom or dad. There was dejection and elation, reflecting the mood of adults from different households.
Through it all, School Garden Project’s educators are doing a tremendous job remembering to focus on the values that frame our work. “Is that a respectful way to talk to your friend?” “When you say that, how do you think that might make Joaquin feel?” “Is there a way for you to be happy without making Ellie feel sad or scared?”
Garden Love Month is here. From Valentine’s Day (2.14) to Pi Day (3.14), we are celebrating the sense of community that our children can develop in their school gardens with volunteer work parties and an online donor campaign. Help us grow this spirit of learning and community. This may be more crucial now than ever before. Thank you.
-John Moriarty, Executive Director