A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old daughter had an unusual request: “Can we grow something I can eat?” (This is a child who loves fruits and vegetables as long as they aren’t touching any other foods.) I asked her which foods she thought might be good to grow; her reply included carrots, strawberries, and grapes. Here’s my confession: When I asked her the question about which foods we should try to grow, I was buying time and hoping she’d get distracted and forget all about growing food. I didn’t know what to say!
It seems like such a simple request, but just thinking about it makes me feel overwhelmed. I’ve tried growing vegetables once or twice, and it was a bust every time. Who knows why–maybe I didn’t do it right. Maybe I overwatered or underwatered. Or maybe the planets just weren’t quite aligned and karma decided that gardening and me were not to be. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I missed out on inheriting any of my grandma’s talents for growing a healthy, abundant vegetable garden. I can grow flowers fine, but my vegetable gardens of the past have looked nothing like hers. Instead they end up looking sad and bedraggled, and my plants develop these tiny appendages that resemble alien babies more than food.
My daughter’s request got me thinking, though, about the food we eat–where it comes from, how it’s grown and harvested, and whose hands touched it before ours did. It’s obvious she’s curious about how food becomes what it is, and it’s important for children to have experiences that help them learn that food grows in the ground before it ever gets to the grocery-store shelves. Here’s a teacher in Arizona who is doing that by growing food with her students (YouTube clip): Teaching kids where their food comes from
While planting and growing a class garden would certainly engage students (dirt! worms! rocks! yay!), it’s a big project that takes considerable planning, commitment, and time. But you don’t have to grow a garden with your class to get them thinking about sustainability. How about a unit on trash and recycling? Use the book Where Does the Garbage Go? and end the unit with a field trip to clean up a public park. Here’s another idea–in a science unit on sunlight and energy, students carry out an experiment by growing vegetables using varying amounts of sunlight and water and record the results. Once the students have gathered their data, invite a local farmer to the classroom to evaluate the students’ findings and talk about the complexities of growing food for many.
The wonderful thing about designing lessons around sustainability is that the issues are pragmatic and timely. Students are already aware of the importance of conserving resources, and they’re eager to do their part. What’s more, most sustainability initiatives incorporate elements of science, social studies, math, and literacy, providing an engaging, authentic, and memorable learning experience. For my money, it doesn’t get more green than that.
Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT