gardening with children

Kayam Farm- the scene of "Planting Seeds: The First Jewish Early Childhood Conference.
It was better than imagined. It was the participants willingness to "dig deeply" on all fronts that mattered. People came from as far as Seattle,North Carolina, Texas, Boston and Worcester, Florida and New York as well as from nearby Virgina, Pennsylvania,New Jersey and of course Baltimore. There were nature specialists, ece directors, teachers, a rabbi and a great mix of ages and persuasions. There were the gardeners and the wannabes and together we weeded, worked on the farm, engaged with the farm animals at a distance of our choice and got to see red wiggler worms up close and personal. There were sessions on nutrition and healthy eating, and great meals for our own sustenance.
There was an ongoing discussion of what makes the garden 'Jewish' and how to bring the very young into this endeavor.
As the 'green bubbie' I gave the opening keynote, trying my best to weave together Richard Louv's wonderful book, "The Last Child in the Woods" with Jewish Identity and Inspiration from the Garden- For those of you not there, I used my actual weaving expertise to invite those present to image the 'warp' of the loom as Torah and the weft as the experiences in the natural world. The warp of the loom is the backbone and strength of the fabric..Sometimes that warp is invisible, and sometimes given the design of the pattern it becomes obvious and beautifully woven together- that's what create the design of the fabric. So too, if the foundation of what we do in the garden comes from our growing and continual study of what the Torah teaches us, that is the foundation of what we teach, of who we are, and what we do we the children. The stronger the warp, the stronger the fabric we create.
And just in case anyone thinks young children are too young,not so. There is no better example that the song, "Yom Rishon Avodah, Yom Sheni Avodah....Yom Shabbat Menucha" (with the hand motions of course) that demonstrates that even the youngest of children can participate in our Torah based tradition- 6 days of work, and on Shabbat we rest"
just like it says in the Torah!
So, as we prepare for Shabbos, let's try to think of all the work we've done all week- in and out of the garden- how we finish it, and rest on the coming Shabbat.
My hope is that this was only the first Jewish Early Childhood Gardening Conference- There is no way I can convey the extraordinary interplay of the parallel sessions of the Ashville JCCs' Early Childhood Cur brilliantly conveyed and shared by LAEL and JILL along with the workshops given by the incredibly knowledgeable staff of Kayam Farm. They live the life they are aspiring to and it is inspiring to work and learn along side of them
I look forward to the next gathering and learning and bringing our field to new heights,
as together we dig deeply into our Jewish Tradition and into the earth from which G-d created us all.

If a tree could grow in Brooklyn, certainly a garden could grow in a New York school yard.

Returning to the kindergarden, the Green Bubbie was thrilled to see the progress of the seeds she had planted with the children. They were eager and curious how a garden could grow in their playground.
We built a "raised bed" a 3x3 foot wooden ' box' used lanscape fabric on the bottom and filled it with gardening soil. We planted the peas and zuchinni which we had grown from seeds and some additional lettuce and flower seedings. The children loved learning how to hoe, to shovel, to dig an adequate hole and of course, watering the garden.
For over 2 hours over 30 children were transformed into urban gardeners!
and now, a vegetable garden grows on a city play ground!
The miracle of growth can happen anywhere you are willing to take root.

Today I received a letter in the mail addressed to "Green Bubbie(TM)" You know, even a great idea is only an idea. Even if you write about it, you need to see if it resonates with others outside of your own head. Do other people ever know what you are imagining? As a 'visionary' thinker, I can tell you that there is nothing more exciting then to see/know that your idea is understood by others, and used by them.
So, imagine my delight when during my recent visit to my grand daughter's kindergarten, I was asked by the teacher what I would like the children to call me. Finally, my chance to try this 'green bubbie' idea out on a group of five year olds. So, I said, they can call me "Green Bubbie" - I paused and whispered to the teacher that for the moment, I would skip my usual monologue about energy-efficient grand parenting. (see initial green bubbie blog posts)
About a moment later the teacher returned and told me that a number of children commented that I didn't look green, and that I didn't appear to be wearing anything green either. There is nothing like the reality focus of young children. So, I proceeded to explain to them that, in addition to being a color, 'green' is also the color of vegetable greens, and gardens, and that a
"green bubbie" is 'someone who helps children plant gardens.'
We did several activities involving different seeds, gardening catalogs, and each child had an opportunity to plant their own chosen seed in an organic, biodegradable planter with their own scoop of organic planting soil. I don't know who had the most fun. We even discussed the life cycle of beans- and while they were admittedly more familiar with beans that go into making 'cholent' for Shabbos, they were wide eyed at the stages where beans can be eaten off the 'pole' or bush. But, it was the idea of the 'zipper' that opens the pea pod that captured the most interest. I taught them 'Five little peas in a pea-pod pressed" and they sang and popped up at just the right moment.
The next day I spoke with the teacher to follow up. She said they took my suggestion and bought fresh peas and shelled them for a snack. While they loved them, my grand daughter assured the children that fresh picked peas from your own garden will be even better. The teacher told me that the class wrote me a thank you note- and that there was a big discussion as to whether to write, "Dear Green Bubbie" or to 'The Green Bubbie" whatever.... When the letter arrived in today's mail, I got all of the validation I could ever want from the seed of a germinating idea-I have no doubt that "the Green Bubbie(TM)" will be a welcome addition gardens and young children wherever they grow.
So, become a Follower or contact me so I can add your name to the 'green bubbies' and join me in planting for the future, with our current crop of kids!

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When I think of life and death I sometimes imagine opposites, or different poles on a spectrum. How different are life and death. Of life, we are experts and of death we know nothing. But that isn't true at all. In fact, for me the more I encounter death in its many forms, the more I appreciate life, all life.
So it is with great humility that I look closely at my own garden, not only for what I can learn about sustainable agriculture, but also for the lessons in life, and the sustainability of Family.
All winter I saw the brown, worn leaves of the Helebors in my garden. I would walk past and think, "Should I cut them off?" "How far down should I cut?" "Perhaps I should just wait until Spring and leave them in place." Days and months pass and snow covers the dead leaves. Yet, knowing as I do that the Helebors will be among the first flowers to bloom,I decide to wait.
I've been through the cycle, I know how and when to anticipate the new growth, yet I chose not to cut back the leaves over the winter.
I recently looked at the place along pathway from our front door that I walk each day and saw the Helebor in bloom, right in with the dry, brown leaves. It was a moment, cherished. Seeing literally within the old leaves the new beautiful blooms. Camera. Pencils. Paints. Pause to appreciate.
Tomorrow I will visit my grand daughter's kindergarten to introduce them to "healthy gardens."
I will be bringing seedlings of lettuces and herbs and seeds to grow squash and cucumbers for planting after we build a raised bed. I will ask them what they know about how vegetables and flowers grow.
I will ask my grand daughter to tell them how we planted the peas in the garden last week. I will ask them if they know where, and how we get the seeds. Then I will review with them what they learned about the third day of Creation- the Biblical phrase, "Let the earth sprout forth sprouting plants yielding seeds." The Ramban says that the phrase 'let the earth' is used because it means that God created the earth with the potential to grow and nourish the seeds. That is a good lesson for why we need to pay attention to the soil we use. We will discuss composting on another day. It is not to hard to stay focused on all the actual gardening tasks.

Yet, for me, it is my heart that learns of life and death. It is knowing that my grand daughter is named for my own mother, z"l that brings the tears that water that garden within me that I can only call my life force, my neshama. Not a day has gone by in over twenty years that I have not felt my mother's love, presence and guidance. While my tears are personal, my passion is for nurturing all of G-d's children, and working daily to seed His garden with love, Emunah (belief), and Betachon (trust).

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Strong forces are bombarding the mind and the material, natural world. As I write this, I am astounded by the force of the Earth Quake in Japan and the resultant tsunami washing up on the West Coast. Energy which shifts the earth and challenges us to get our minds around the magnitude of this event just as we watch the waters and waves hit and spread to encircle the islands from all sides.
I am living happily in the month of Adar, but I am viscerally and spiritually connected to the natural world and all of humanity. Never privy to G-d's ultimate plan, I continue to strengthen my faith and join forces with the best of human responses to this devastation.
Ah, the challenge to stay positive and focus on what is in front of me! And so I say, Thank G-d for March 17 and the Irish and the secular calendars which mark this day. While I will may not be wearing green, I will be at my 'green-est' as I get out into the garden and down on my knees to start planting!
March 17 in my area of North America, is the time to plant peas, mustards and some lettuces.
Therefore, today serves as a reminder that if you have not already purchased your seeds- do it ASAP. Of course, you could buy them locally as well.
Planting peas and lettuces with children is a very engaging. Even planting the peas for them or virtually should be considered. We like to start our grandchildren out at about 18 months. If a child can stand, I consider them to be my partners in the planting process. Do not confuse 'planting with children' with 'supervising' children. I consider the "planting of the peas" a great example of the social construction of knowledge and experience. We do it together. We discuss it while it is happening. the peas, unlike lettuce seeds are large (they are the size of a pea!) We take turns, either I poke my finger in the ground, and the child drops in the pea, or the child pokes and I drop in the pea. Older children in the neighborhood are able to do both processes. Planting with children is a shared experience. I always use a personal pronoun when I refer to our gardens. If a child lives far from us, I might say, "I planted peas today in your garden" After the children plant, I continually give them updates on 'their' peas even on the phone. Of course the most fun is picking the pods when they are ready. And what to do with grandchildren far away? Well, when the pods are ready to be picked, they don't wait for the next holiday visit. So, last year, I pulled the entire root system up, untied the trellised peas and stuff the whole thing in a bag and
I took Amtrak up hte east coast so the children could 'experience' pulling the pods off of the stalks and take the peas out of the pods themselves. Perfect for little hands and great hearts of all ages.
So, thank you to the Irish who keep me focuses on just the right time to turn green and get into my garden.