Friday, March 20, 2009

The White House Garden!

Guess what all? The New York Times reports that the White House will be installing an organic garden. And guess what?

It's for learning and teaching!!!

While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at time when obesity has become a national concern.

In an interview in her office, Mrs. Obama said, “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street. (It’s just below the Obama girls’ swing set.) Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs.
This is what we need. We have been calling for it and they have responded. Let's all take a moment and write to Dean Monk about our proposed teaching and learning garden and urge him to come on board as I did earlier this semester. I wrote:

School Gardens:
For the past year I have found that placed-based ecological education might best be accomplished with school gardens. Students who work in gardens find that they develop innate understandings of living things by cultivating flowers and vegetables, weeding, eating them, and sharing them with friends. Gardens naturally build community and interconnectedness with nature by making the place itself the learning environment. As John Dewey would note an educative experience must be connected and continuous such that a student can apply to her/his life outside of school. Gardens can and do break down artificial barriers between schooling, working, eating, and nature, thereby providing Dewey’s pleasurable and continuous educative experience.

Alice Waters, owner of one of San Francisco’s great restaurants Chez Panisse, has worked with the in Edible Schoolyard in Bay Area schools and the Garden Project. The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley explains itself as follows:

The Edible Schoolyard, in collaboration with Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, provides urban public school students with a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen classroom. Using food systems as a unifying concept, students learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious seasonal produce. Experiences in the kitchen and garden foster a better understanding of how the natural world sustains us, and promote the environmental and social well being of our school community.
Waters notes the danger of leaving nature out of food as follows:
We’re losing the values we learned from our parents when we sat around our family table, when we lived closer to the land and communicated. The way children are eating now is teaching them about disposability, about sameness, about fast, cheap and easy. They learn that work is avoided, that preparation is drudgery.
The industrial food system that has arisen in post-World War II America has wreaked untold harm on domestic and international soil, air, water supply, and human bodies, brains, and attitudes. Convenience and its correlated drudgery avoidance has an American out-of-sight/out-of-mind attitude to food and its necessary energy costs that contributes to climate change.There is no single fruit from a proverbial tree of knowledge that can impart the knowledge to future generations that will help us undo environmental degradation. However, work with the living food we eat brings knowledge and care. All of the following can come from a garden: biology, botany, soil science, meteorology, solar science, math, aesthetics, preparation, self-sufficiency, and best of all conviviality. A well-prepared social studies teacher can easily teach about history, geography, or world cultures simply by using a sweet potato. The sweet potato and its relatives are used in today’s cuisine, indigenous North American Indian food, and indigenous South Americans and Africans for millennia. A simple vegetable becomes a throughway for learning about endless things. It shows the interconnectedness of all life and the integration of human lives through time. Just a yam can become Dewey’s superb “educative experience” that is both agreeable and transferable. Luckily for us, the State College area schools have already created school gardens. In fact, this past week the State College Area School District posted a website devoted entirely to gardens. Additionally, parents are moving to incorporate school gardens in Philipsburg and Penns Valley. It seems that Penn State is well behind the curve on this matter. It is my hope that the Penn State College of Education can remedy this and work to better future teachers’ experiences in school gardens.

Please send Dean Monk a note at Maybe even point him to today's landmark (literally) announcement for planting this garden by the Obamas and the story in The New York Times. Please write nicely and assure him that this is something we not only want but need for a more sustainable future.

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