Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Want to volunteer at the Washington Youth Garden?

Spring volunteer orientation is scheduled for Saturday, April 10 from 9am to 12pm. It is required that volunteers go through an orientation before coming out to volunteer in the garden.

We'll explain our programs, how the garden operates, and what our volunteer protocol is. You’ll also be doing some work in the garden, so come prepared with proper work clothes, a water bottle, snack, etc.

Please RSVP to kwarner@washingtonyouthgarden.org if you plan on coming.

We are also looking for a committed person to serve as volunteer coordinator on Saturday mornings. This person would lead the volunteers in a garden project, as well as provide some support to our family program, Growing Food…Growing Together. This is not a paid position, but the volunteer coordinator will receive a box of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs every week. This person would need to be at the April 10th volunteer orientation and would need to commit to four hours every Saturday morning from May 8th until the middle of August. Email kwarner@washingtonyouthgarden.org for more information.

Looking forward to seeing you out in the garden.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Garden Science is Over???

Lamentably, our eight weeks of classes have come to an end. It was a wonderful ride, and our students have unequivocally acquired mounds of dirty knowledge, and I use that phrase in the best sense.

The program is not actually over – in mid-April we will be installing and/or improving vegetable gardens at our participating schools, and in May all of the students will be coming out to the garden to re-ignite the fire that we have lit in their bellies.

We will not be going back for classroom lessons, and oh, it is sad to think that we won’t be sharing time and stories with the little ones every Tuesday through Thursday anymore. We at The Garden want to give a wide-eyed, uvula-exposing shout out to our volunteers that came out to help in the classroom and our teachers and students from the schools.

Although we breathlessly await the culmination of our GS activities, we at the Youth Garden are gearing up for our delicious summer programs, SPROUT, one-time nutrition and envisci ‘classes’ for youths in the garden; Growing Food Growing Together, a fifteen week family-oriented program that intends to reconnect families with their food and the land from which it comes; and Seed to Supper, an eight week interdisciplinary garden-based program for youths.

Chris, our resident farming expert and garden manager, has been assiduously preparing the garden for the growing season, sitting with the her, rubbing her tummy and singing gentle, waking lullabies to bring her out of the long winter’s slumber.

If you or your children are interested in participating in any of the programs listed above, you can contact Kaifa Anderson-Hall at kanderson@washingtonyouthgarden.org. We also accept, and to a great degree rely on wonderful volunteers to make our programs run as smoothly as they do. If you are interested, you can sign up for our volunteer info list on the website. We also have volunteer days in the garden every Tuesday, beginning very shortly. For more info here, you can contact Kacie, our lovely education coordinator, at kwarner@washingtonyouthgarden.org.

Below, I’ve put together a short compilation of clips from the last few classes of Garden Science, which ended with a bang and sizzle by preparing vegetable stir-fry with the students. Mostly just sizzle, actually. If things go as planned, like the ALWAYS do, we should be producing a more substantial video in the near future about Garden Science. WOOOOOoo.

Love and Asparagus (oh so soon),


Monday, March 22, 2010


There is the Flatflap, where the arm is extended vertically in the air with the elbow locked. The hand, flat as though ready to high-five, flaps in a north-to-south manner with varying degrees of vigor.

There is the Fingerwaggle, where, irrespective of the arm angle, every finger on the hand in question wildly, aggressively writhes to it’s own inaudible rhythm. The Fingerwaggle is often accompanied by a facial expression that would generally be regarded as intolerable agony.

These are two of the more popular techniques that our students use to attract our attention. There’s also the Doublesingle Sweep, the Diaper Change, the Silent Poutshout, the Straight-Legged Birch, the Bounceypants. The list is quite endless, really, and as there is no end to attention-grabbing methods of a 3rd grader, there is a similarly endless pool of questions, comments and observations that swirl just beneath the surface of their adorable little eyes.

Seemingly from nowhere, our students conjure questions from... whatever’s inside third graders…presumably fruit punch and Funyuns (which is where we come in). After a story or activity, we ask if there are any questions. Instantly the air is full of outstretched hands. Occasionally, the questions are not questions, but rather peripherally related comments or stories. More often than not, we have to move on with the lesson before everyone gets a chance to share. Given the chance, students can generally procure a question at a moments notice, sometimes with no apparent thought process.

This ‘ability,’ shall we call it, can be disruptive to the flow of our lessons, sending the kids’ imaginations off in every direction except towards us. Quite honestly, though, of everything that I’ve experienced in the classroom so far, this ‘elementary expressive ability’ has been the greatest source of inspiration, awe and reflection for me, who supposedly possesses ‘collegiate expressive ability.’

It is fascinating, the way they ask questions, and the process leading up to it. There is generally no discernable filtration process. Just questions. Thoughts. Ideas. There is no self-consciousness. No worrying what the words will sound like floating through the air. No taking notes, writing out the question beforehand, to make sure the wording is acceptable to their intellectually sound peers. Sometimes they start asking questions before they even know what they are going to ask. They just go. Often, it seems to not matter what they are asking, so long as they are asking. A desperate and unacknowledged desire to acquire information. Childhood.

The content and nature of the questions and comments that come out can be markedly profound. Sometimes we have to tweak our corrupted ears to hear the magnitude in their questions, for very often, they are questions that are overlooked and unanswered because of their simplicity. “Ms. Kacie, what is bedrock made of? Mr. Lou, how does chocolate come from a plant? Sometimes their questions force our minds out of their comfort zones, nudging us just a few feet to the left of the perch from which we generally look at the world. “Ms. Anna Beth, do rocks have birthdays? Mr. Andrew, how does the world work?”

The children possess an insatiable curiosity about the way things work. Why things go. So much mystery and wonderment remains in their minds about the things that happen around them on a daily basis. There are significant gaps of knowledge that they are, consciously or unconsciously, desperate to fill. They are not embarrassed to not know things.

As a result, they ask the simple questions that adults are afraid to. They ones that are all but unanswerable to a lowly layperson like myself. The deceptively complex questions that few people can accurately answer. The ones that are easy to dismiss as unimportant and easy to make up answers to. These are questions that I am grateful to have been pushed to revisit by talking with third graders.

“Mr. Andrew…

What kind of bug is that?

Why do bees sting?

Why is it so ugly?

What happens when we find worms in the dirt?

Are bugs the same as insects?

Whysit that color?

Did you kill all these bugs?

What happens if you cut a worm in half?

How old are you? 45. No you’re not! Are you? How old are you?

What happens when the flower gets sick?

What if we overwater the plants?

Is soil the same as dirt?

How is chocolate made from a plant?

Why do butterflies look like moths?

Why can’t we see nematodes?

Why did you kill all those bugs?

Aren’t you scared?

How many bugs live in the dirt?

What is bedrock made of?

Do rocks have birthdays?

How long has the dirt in my backyard been there?

Why can’t we eat these?

Are we going to the arboretum today?

Why do they have pins in them?

Doesn’t that hurt?

How are bugs made?

Do you ever eat McDonalds?

Why not?

Being in the classroom, seeing the faces and processes that these questions have come from have been inspiring to me. Have led me to ask my own questions, revisit thoughts that have been simmering in my own pot, but maybe never looked at them in such terms as a third grader might ask them.

It may seem a little silly, because there are clearly drawbacks to thinking like a third grader. The point, though, is not that we should all start blindly rattling off questions and telling irrelevant stories to strangers on the street. The point isn’t even that I have personally been inspired. The point is that I think that there are underlying aspects of the behavior in question that adults across the board try to retain, or wish they could continue to exhibit.

I think everyone longs for that freedom of expression. Everyone cares because everyone wants, to some degree, to be able to be genuinely curious and open to that curiosity. In adults, I think, we call it innovation and creativity, and it can be difficult to maintain these when one is embedded in a grind, of sorts. A routine. It is easy to fall in and repeat the motions. Childlike curiosity and openness to expressing what is brewing inside are qualities easily lost in daily patterns. Personally, I have felt this at work.

Every one of us wants to re-tap that channel of expression that we once had access to, the one which now rages freely through our third graders’ minds. I’ve come to believe this is one reason that being around kids is so inspiring. Enlightening. Energizing. Smile-inducing.

For this reason, I have come to view our Garden Science program as an exchange, rather than a service. We educate our students and our students educate us. The balance may not be exactly equal, but the sentiment holds true. The idea of inverting the teacher-student dyad is prevalent among progressive education literature (if my resolve is strong enough I may be able to write some more on this/link to relevant information), and is of extreme importance in educational situations.

To see students as peers as opposed to, well, students, may be a more extreme recommendation in the realm of teacher/student relations, although perhaps not a bad idea to explore. Peer, implying a plane of equality uniting the parties in question, may be hard to imagine while said peer, 12 years one’s junior, wildly flails his arm in your face. But take that mentality, the fervor with which the students’ face contorts, and hold on to it. Put it in your pocket, and carry it with you, around the next corner, to where the questions wait.

Local NPR station covers Garden Science

Rebecca Shier, a reporter from WAMU, joined our Garden Science class at Center City Public Charter School in Trinidad. Ms. Shier did an excellent job capturing the program. Have a listen!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Students want healthy food and school gardens!

Students in our Garden Science program learned about the proposed DC Healthy Schools Act. We wrote letters to the City Council to express our support of this bill, a few of which you can read below. We will be submitting these letters of support to the DC City Council and will read a few of them during the public testimony period at the upcoming hearing on March 26.

Saturday, March 6, 2010