LGI hopes its website can become an active forum for ongoing discussion about the potentials and challenges of implementing food– and garden-based education.
Carter Latendresse’s extensive essay “Why Garden in School?” provides a first-class example of innovative curriculum design. It is the first installment of what we hope will become a rich mosaic of ideas and thoughts to stimulate and inspire fellow garden educators in our community and beyond.
I am a father of two children, ages 10 and 13, and I have taught middle school, in both for public and private systems, for 17 years now. Some of this time was spent in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, some in Hawaii, some in Colorado, and the last five here in Portland, Oregon. I have had tens of thousands of conversations with my own children and with other student tweens and young teenagers about the usual topics one talks about young people: hope, literature, social relations, hair, courage, history, texting during class, music, ethics, movies, sports, the unfairness of homework, and the rest.
In the last ten years, certain environmental topics keep coming up. Does recycling really help? If nuclear power is so dangerous, why do people use it? Will we have water to drink when the polar ice caps melt? Why is each year hotter than previous year? Why does all the news about nature always seem to be bad and getting worse? What can we do about it all?
When young people ask me questions like these, I do my best to answer accurately and thoroughly. Sometimes I tell them I don’t know the answers or that it’s more complicated than trying to squeeze in a two-minute conversation before or after the objective of the day’s lesson. The following essay is my belated response to a dozen or so interrelated student questions about climate, soil, gardening, food, politics, and water that I have been asked repeatedly over the last decade.
This essay is also related to curriculum design, as the personal and professional have become more and more aligned for me over the years, especially with regards to the environment. Because I am the Garden Coordinator at my school, and because sustainability is one of the missions of our school, Catlin Gabel, my colleagues and I work together to create curriculum that puts our school’s organic gardens and orchards to use, both pedagogically and as a food source for our cafeteria. As a sixth grade English teacher, when I design curriculum at school, I am trying to merge two things: one, the history and literature content that my school’s Scope and Sequence asks me to teach; with two, the burning questions from my children and my students. I know that the curriculum is best when it is real world, relevant to the lives of young people, and when it has been deliberately sequenced and connected by a team of educators to curriculum that has preceded it, parallels it, and will follow it.
My hope in writing this paper is that my students and my own children will see that many adults in their lives, despite possible appearances to the contrary, are paying attention to their concerns and to the world that they will inherit from us. This paper is dedicated to them.
This paper is an argument for gardening in schools, focusing on two months of integrated English-history sixth grade curriculum that explores the relationships between a number of current environmental problems—notably hunger, water scarcity, topsoil loss, and global warming—and the land-use practices that led to the downfall of ancient Mesopotamia. This paper suggests that world leaders today are repeating some of the same mistakes that caused desertification to topple the Sumerian empire. It then explains how our sixth grade class explores solutions to the existing emergencies by studying Mesopotamia, ancient myth, gardening, and contemporary dystopian fiction. Finally, this paper posits a new cosmology that might help to remake western civilization, saving it from the threat of present-day ecological crises.
You can link to Carter’s full essay, which is featured on our new Essays page listed under our Resources menu.