Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflecting on the Summer

We have put our beds to rest, packed our tools away, and rolled our fences up for later use. Last week, the students bundled up against the cold, for the last day of gardening. There was not much left to harvest, but we gleaned what we could before emptying the gardens and piling our plants in a heap to be taken to the city compost.

Back in the classroom, the students reflected on the past few months of gardening and together they shared what they have learned and practiced.

As the students reflected, I did too. I thought about our first day in the garden and how the class time seemed to be so frenzied, yet somehow quite productive. I laughed, remembering the time the watering hose wasn’t working, so I went to the spigot, cranked the water pressure as high as I could, and came back to see the student who was helping me absolutely soaked with water. Then there was the time I tried to gage how heavy a bin of steel fence posts was and knocked the whole thing over, and myself with it, much to the students’ amusement. I never made it through a class period without laughter at some point--or often many --which is one of the reasons I will really miss my days at Arlington Hills.

Looking back on the season, the students have also been teachers to me. The early summer days were blessed with abundant rains, and equally abundant plant growth, both wanted and unwanted. When we went out to the garden to weed, half of the weeds were thrown into a bin for composting and the other half were gathered and taken home for dinners. If there is one thing the students are, it is resourceful. They do not waste food in any way, and they are quick to identify edible plants, which I have known as “weeds.” The students make use of all sorts of greens that I have never tried. Some of the students would leave the garden with bunches of clover, which I found to have a striking, tangy taste that mellows out when cooked. Other students gathered lambsquarters or even carrot-top greens. One particular day, a student began stripping the leaves off a honey locust tree next to the garden. As I am the “garden teacher,” a few other students naturally asked me if the leaves were edible. I had never heard of anyone eating these leaves, so I advised the students not to eat them—better safe than sorry, right? (I’m quite certain the leaves were taken home and eaten anyway.) That night, I did some research on the honey locust tree and did not find anything conclusive, as far as leaf edibility goes. I continued to see students pick leaves though, and after inquiring, I learned that one of the students in particular likes to cook the leaves at home, mixing them with water, oil, salt, and spices. Google may not have the final results in, but it seems that Arlington Hills students do, and the honey locust leaves continue to be consumed--for better or worse--by a number of the students. My most recent efforts to find more information on the honey locust, has revealed that scientists are considering the possibility that the leaves contain anti-cancer compounds so perhaps the students are on to something after all.

I know I will not forget these lessons I learned from the students and I hope that, likewise, they will not forget their lessons either. From the students, to the staff, to the ever-helpful custodian, my time at Arlington Hills has been graced with the kindness of the people there, as this place is quite obviously more than just a school, but a community that forges lasting ties and is sincerely invested in one another’s wellbeing. While my internship time at the school has come to an end, I do not really believe in goodbyes, only transitions that all relationships take at some point. Though I will no longer stop in every Wednesday, I am certain I will still be in touch with Arlington Hills in some way, whether it is checking in via blog updates, emailing staff to say hello, or crossing paths with students at a store or on the bus. I am most grateful for my experience at the school and everyone who helped to make my time so worthwhile. I will truly miss the community and will always think back on my days there with fond memories. Thank you, Arlington Hills, for sharing such a lovely summer with me!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Season of Gardening

With cool nights and dry days, our growing season is coming to an end.  Looking back on the summer, we've enjoyed a variety of foods from our garden and have even taken the opportunity to plant several rounds of crops, from cool weather greens to warm weather peppers, to fall root crops.

In July, despite the heavy heat waves plaguing MN--and most of the U.S.--the garden blossomed under the attentive care of the Arlington Hills students.  We spent a few weeks trimming back the garden, which was teeming with greens and herbs, while the beans and eggplants were just beginning to flower.  The garden was producing a hearty supply of greens, which students took home each week, but under the intense heat, the greens began to bolt and it was finally time to take them out.  While we usually  have just enough veggies for the class that works in the garden, on this particular day, all the students in the school were able to enjoy this impressive yield.  In place of the greens, students planted a mid-summer crop of cucumbers, beets, radishes, and kale.



In August and September the garden exploded in flowers and flourished with vegetables. The students took home tomatoes and peppers from the bucket gardens, and eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and carrots from the external gardens.





With plenty of produce, the gardening lessons often carried over into "Jobs Club," where students divided, weighed, and labeled the harvest.



Now, as the October days grow shorter and the nights threaten to frost, it is time to end our gardening season. In spite of record breaking heat and drought, the garden has given us much to be thankful for. This week, we will gather the last of our crops and put our garden to rest for the winter.