The pilot has been completed, the funding has been awarded, the educational consultants have been trained, the beds are being built…
And now, the Garden Project has officially begun, kicking off with an informational workshop this past Saturday, April 6 at Common Ground High School. At this workshop, twenty family child care providers gathered to learn about how to incorporate educational gardens into routines that support children’s holistic development. Common Ground’s experts shared garden curriculum ideas for providers to incorporate into their programs and gave providers a deeper understanding of the commitment that having a garden requires. We also got a tour of Common Ground’s educational gardens and even got to visit the baby pigs on site.
Providers at the workshop were very enthusiastic about learning new ways to use the outdoors as a classroom, and were eager to discuss ways that an educational garden could enhance their work with children. This prompted a thoughtful discussion about strategies to help parents feel comfortable with their children digging and exploring in soil, as well as strategies to engage entire families in the growing of an educational garden.
Saturday’s workshop served as a prelude to All Our Kin’s more intensive Garden Project, through which ten providers will be able to engage more deeply in the labor and learning that an educational garden can bring. For providers who commit to the Garden Project, All Our Kin and Common Ground will construct raised garden beds at their programs, and provide gardening materials and seeds and seedlings for planting. They will also receive regular visits from educational consultants from Common Ground and All Our Kin throughout the growing season to help maximize their garden’s potential.
The Garden Project is, importantly, one more way for family child care providers to engage in professional development, empowering themselves with the knowledge and resources necessary to promote better outcomes for our communities’ children. Ensuring that children have enriching early experiences, we know, promotes childrens’ well-being and poises them for success throughout life. The Garden Project exposes children to how their food is grown, helps them develop healthy eating habits, and harnesses their curiosity about the natural world into new and exciting learning opportunities.
But, this project is not only about quality early learning experiences as social justice. It is also about health and nutritional justice, food justice, and economic justice. In February 2013, Ron Finely, “a guerilla gardener in South Central LA,” gave a TED Talk about his subversive acts of planting a “food forest” to replace the food desert in his community. Finely’s words illustrate a context similar to that in which our own work takes place.
“I live in South Central. This is South Central: liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots… Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. People are dying from curable diseases in South Central Los Angeles… How would you feel if you had no access to healthy food, if every time you walk out your door you see the ill effects that the present food system has on your neighborhood?… I got tired of driving 45 minutes round trip to get an apple that wasn’t impregnated with pesticides…So me and my group, L.A. Green Grounds, we got together and we started planting my food forest, fruit trees, you know, the whole nine, vegetables. What we do, we’re a pay-it-forward kind of group, where it’s composed of gardeners from all walks of life, from all over the city…
And the garden, it was beautiful.
…See, I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls, me, I beautify lawns, parkways. I use the garden, the soil, like it’s a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees, that’s my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what the soil could do if you let it be your canvas. You just couldn’t imagine how amazing a sunflower is and how it affects people.
…I have witnessed my garden become a tool for the education, a tool for the transformation of my neighborhood. To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil. We are the soil. You’d be surprised how kids are affected by this. Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries… If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes. But when none of this is presented to them, if they’re not shown how food affects the mind and the body, they blindly eat whatever the hell you put in front of them…
So with gardening, I see an opportunity where we can train these kids to take over their communities, to have a sustainable life. And when we do this, who knows? We might produce the next George Washington Carver. But if we don’t change the composition of the soil, we will never do this…
What I’m talking about is putting people to work, and getting kids off the street, and letting them know the joy, the pride and the honor in growing your own food, opening farmer’s markets.
…So I want us all to become ecolutionary renegades, gangstas, gangsta gardeners. We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is. If you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta. Get gangsta with your shovel, okay? And let that be your weapon of choice.”