Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Teaching and Learning in the Children's Garden

This summer at Lettuce Link we're lucky to have a stellar intern crew. Today, we're featuring the writing of Cordelia, who recently moved to Seattle and is interning this summer with our Children's Garden and Nutrition Education programs.

My Food Roots

Coming from a family of “weekend farmers” - enthusiastic amateurs who spend a lot of time Googling topics such as ‘how to prune an olive tree’ - I grew up knowing the satisfaction that comes with eating food you have grown yourself, and subsequently have always been interested in issues of farming and food justice.

Like many, this interest translated into a desire for action and education – for myself as well as others. In college I edited the food section of my college newspaper and while studying abroad in Latin America, started a now-permanent column in the college paper where students studying abroad share what they have learned about the food cultures and food practices of their host country.

My other passion is working with children and I hope to become an elementary school teacher someday.

As a recent college graduate, I came to Seattle looking for a project that would allow me to continue my education about food justice and small scale, community farming while working with kids. As a summer intern with Lettuce Link’s Children’s Garden, I feel so lucky to have found an experience that allows me to engage both of these passions. 

My Work this Summer

So when’s the Washington State Fair again?
in the Seattle Community Farm Children’s Garden.
(Intern Danielle’s hands included for scale.)
I help Amelia, Lettuce Link’s education coordinator, in leading garden and nutrition classes at Marra Farm for students from the South Park Community Center and SeaMar's Child Development Center,and serve as a ‘garden guide’ to students from summer camps from all over the city who come to Marra Farm on field trips. 

At the Seattle Community Farm, I have been helping plan and plant the newer and less developed Children’s Garden, as well as co-teach a class of students from the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club summer program.

A Typical Summer Class in the Children’s Garden

Each class we begin in an opening circle where we go over the farm rules, remember what we learned and made last week, and do some “farm stretches.”

A favorite is “Root, Stem, Leaves, Flower, Fruit, Seed.” We start scrunched up on the ground and then streeeetch for the sky, using our bodies to model all the different parts as we go through the life cycle of a plant.

Once we’re warmed up, we head to the Giving Garden to harvest what we need to make our farm snack of the day. Some groups harvest aromatic herbs, while others pick peas or chard with the careful “two-handed picking” we have learned helps to not hurt the plants.

We troop back to the outdoor kitchen to wash our vegetables. Then one group goes to the Children’s Garden where we examine our plants’ progress, and water our garden. Each week has different activity, whether it’s playing “Garden Detectives” (identifying and pulling weeds) or making our own soil samples and learning about soil composition. At the nutrition station, we learn about the different food groups and how our snack compares to the MyPlate guidelines for healthy eating.

Back at the kitchen station, our busy little cooks are chopping and shredding vegetables under the knowledgeable direction of the chefs and volunteers from Cooking Matters. We all take turns stirring while we learn about this history and nutrition of this week’s snack. Each class we make and taste a dish from a different food culture.

So far this summer, we have eaten:
  • Mesir Wot with Gomen from Ethiopia;
  • Mexican-American “farm style” nachos;
  • Italian-American “farm style” macaroni and cheese; and 
  • Middle Eastern vegetable tabouleh

If you haven’t guessed, “farm style” means LOTS of veggies!

When the cooking is done, we wash our hands and dig in after chanting, “Bon Appetit, we all may eat!” Class ends with an outdoor game and an opportunity for students to share their favorite thing they learned that day.

Sensory Exploration with Preschoolers

While this class format works for kids in elementary school, we focus on sensory exploration with our preschool class from SeaMar’s Child Development Center. Our farm snacks are themed by color rather than by geography. Together, we've made a GREEN garden salad, a PURPLE beet hummus snack, and an ORANGE sweet potato and carrot mash! 

In the Children’s Garden we've tasted sour sorrel, stroked velvety-soft lamb’s ear, and smelled medicinal herbs like calming lavender.

Teaching and Learning

Scholars from West Seattle YMCA summer program crowd excitedly
around the new chicken coop on a field trip to Marra Farm.
It is inevitable that in teaching, you learn as well. For me, this is the true value of education. Even halfway through the summer, I cannot count all the things that I have learned so far from Amelia about classroom management, effective teaching and communicating with children, as well as the important lessons I have learned from the children themselves.

Co-teaching these classes is a constant affirmation that the work that Lettuce Link does in the Children’s Garden is incredibly important. I am reminded of this every day that I see a child triumphantly holding aloft the radish that they grew themselves, or hear someone proudly tell me, “I've never tasted that before but I liked it SO MUCH! I want to give my mom the recipe!” 

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