Dig, Child, Dig!

Monday, October 20, 2014

F.C. Joyce Elementary School: Photo Courtesy of Eli Bob
Dig, Child, Dig! Dig until it hurts! And then dig just a little bit more. I can still remember my mother's commands -- even after all of these years. For -- the love and joy that is digging in the dirt is not easily learned nor taken up by children right away. That is why I was fortunate enough to have a mother who pressed a gardening trowel in my hand one day, point to a particularly weedy and particularly dry gardening bed and utter the following one word command: DIG!

It was not a request. Nor was it a very good idea to tell my mother that I had better things to do, which I clearly thought I did. Little did I know that it would be on this day where my love for all things gardening would be born and nourished. This is where the education started: In a small patch of dirt in a somewhat barren and neglected corner of a single-family tract home built for returning World War II veterans on Ribier Avenue in the somewhat isolated San Joaquin Valley city of Modesto, CA.

Filling a Raised Garden Bed: F.C. Joyce Elementary School
I am approached often by many different sorts of people -- some local and some not -- who request that I post this note or that. Sometimes the causes are worthy and do deserve some mention -- but not on a blog about vegetable gardening in the Bird Back 40. And then there are some offers -- well -- where I can't say "thank you, but I'm not interested" quite fast enough. Not a week goes by when two or three people write to inquire about this or that. Most of the time -- I'm sorry to say -- the answer is no. This blog is about vegetable gardening. This blog is about my experience. It is about the wife that is Venus. This is my muse.

Consider this blog post an exception. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the pitch was too good. Perhaps it brought back memories of home. Whatever it was -- it worked. Today's story, children, is about children. Not just any children -- but a particularly hard-working group of children in North Highlands. These children attend F.C. Joyce Elementary School on Watt Avenue in North Highlands. More importantly, given the choice of playing tetherball or starting a garden -- these children chose work over play.

Raised Gardening Beds: F.C. Joyce Elementary School
The raised bed garden creation work that took place this past weekend on the campus of F.C. Joyce Elementary was the brainchild of an organization called Healthy Planet USA, a non-profit that works to provide gardens in schools for children and integrate hands-on learning experiences in the classroom. That is the language that Healthy Planet USA gave to me to repeat to you. What does "integrate hands-on learning experiences" mean?

It means these fine folks taught these kids a thing or two about digging in the dirt. They pressed a gardening trowel into the hands of those students, as my mother once did to me, and gave the following instructions: DIG.

Dig the children of F.C. Joyce Elementary did.

Photos Courtesy of Eli Bob
It's the photos that tell the true story of what took place one afternoon on the campus of this school located in North Highlands. Volunteers replaced some forlorn looking bushes with six raised beds, but that's just the start from what I understand. Once the kids get started and develop the passion for gardening that is sure to follow -- as many as 25 raised gardening beds could be in place soon.

So what's this all about? What is really going on here: Well -- I think Healthy Planet puts it best in their own words: "The Healthy Planet model is based not only on improving food awareness, academic outcomes, and entrepreneurship, but also community development and empowerment. As a result our Healthy Growing School Gardens are financed by the community and local business partners, (aka School Champions) through crowdfunding."

A Garden Grows Here
They continue: "School gardens achieve similar outcomes; bringing communities together, building a sense of pride, ownership, and empowerment along the way. The communities help fund, build and sustain their school gardens. And the children in our Healthy Growing programs benefit the greater community. This often overlooked ‘community development’ component is essential to ensuring that a school garden is successful for many years."

Not many people garden anymore. They don't have the time. They don't have the desire. They work too hard or family obligations take up far too much time. Although vegetable gardening has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, there was once a time when EVERY household on any particular block contained a garden. That simply isn't true anymore. I don't know if it will ever be true again.

But I do know this much. Pressing a gardening trowel into the hands of an impressionable young boy or girl, or letting them move gardening mix from one area to another, isn't necessarily such a bad thing. Because this is where it starts. This is where the education begins.

And that's not a terrible thing if you ask me.

Bill's Note: California schools looking to join the gardening movement are in luck. Schools can register easily through the Healthy Planet USA website. Once a school is registered there is a “site visit” where staff can visit the school and assess what is needed to make a garden happen. Any school can get involved whether they are public, private, have a garden or not.

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