Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed? I know I have, especially lately. We can all get comfortable with routine and start to take the consistency and mundane for granted. Moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas and starting my position, as a FoodCorps Service Member has certainly given me a new appreciation for consistency and mundane that I can access when it seems that everything else is change.
Fayetteville is a beautiful place to re-locate, especially in late summer. I was lucky to walk into a still-sweaty summer with two school gardens in full bloom. Both Owl Creek School and Holt Middle School were well maintained and bursting with fresh fruit, veggies and herbs thanks to the efforts of the community, including previous FoodCorps Arkansas service members Ally and Sophia.
Now that you’re here with me, nestled in the beautiful Ozark hills of Fayetteville, allow me to take you through the valleys of my challenges, up the hills of my triumphs and ultimately to the top of the hill, where clarity comes during sunsets.
I have been tasked with curriculum integration in the three area middle schools, co-leading 2 after-school garden clubs that meet weekly, maintaining and expanding two existing school gardens and breaking ground on a third. This all seemed so straightforward in the job description, and really it is pretty clear. The factor I didn’t originally take fully into account was just how to go about doing this. I had ideas of what it all would look like, but didn’t fully know what to expect. This said, I have had a quick and busy introduction to exactly what this description is all about.
Since starting in my new position, with the Fayetteville Public School’s Sustainability Office, I have been working feverishly on the previously described tasks and goals. What does it look like to integrate a garden, food and nutrition into curriculum? So far it’s been a joy and a little nerve wracking at the same time. I have had the privilege to step into three classrooms and host one in the garden, now just over two months into my service.
I’ve co-taught two 5th grade science classes about “The Compost Pile as an Ecosystem” and vermicomposting, also known as worm composting. I have co-taught one 7th grade Social Studies class about the connection of Ancient Egyptian farming of grains to modern day, with a focus on labor, nutrition and social organization. Finally, I had the privilege of co-teaching a Read-180 class, a reading intervention program for struggling readers, about migrant farmworkers as it pertained to their class on immigration.
What does co-leading garden clubs look like? So far, I’ve been lucky to walk into the two previously mentioned beautiful and well-maintained school gardens. Both Holt and Owl Creek schools have after-school garden clubs, though they look quite different. Holt’s club is led by the fearless 6th grade science and social studies teacher, Justin Leflar. Justin has been great to work with because he is so passionate and dedicated to Holt’s garden and community. The garden has aptly been named “Holt Community Garden”.
Co-leading this club has been exciting and tiring at times. Justin has done a great job of communicating and helping me to relax when I get wound up about making the perfect cooking lesson for 5th-7th graders. So far, I’ve led lessons both in the garden and kitchen, drafting up a weekly 101 of a new topic or re-enforcing a skill taught previously.
Owl Creek’s club looks different from Holt’s, as we have an age range of 2nd-7th graders. This range should not be taken for granted when planning for a club meeting – it necessitates a very strategic approach in planning. Providing a fulfilling experience for both a 2nd grader that has never seen a garden and a seasoned 7th grader that has been in Lisa Richardson’s 5th grade science class and has known about compost for 2 whole years is indeed a challenge. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa ,who co-leads the club with myself and another community member from Apple Seeds, Eden Stewart. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa, learning again my most valued and consistent lessons thus far, clear communication, patience and confidence that it will all work out.
Maintaining the gardens, adding on and eventually breaking ground on a third are tasks in and of themselves that require observation of what already exists, considering the potential, and working towards that potential daily. Check back for updates on just what maintaining, expanding and breaking ground on school gardens looks like.
For now, I will leaf (pun-intended) you with visions of the beautiful explosion of fall colors blanketing these ancient hills of Northwest Arkansas. Soon the leaves will crunch to the touch. It seems that reminding myself of this natural beauty, at sunset each night, is the key to keeping everything else in order.
- By Sean Coder