by Molly Ruhlman
Yesterday I knocked down a giant interconnected web craftily spun by a spider between our compost bin and the beans. Not very kind to the spider, but necessary if we were to walk around the beans to the tomatoes and pick our produce. The spider will only build another, I imagine. The web reminded me of the other giant interconnected web; The Unitarian Universalist one, of course, and of my hope that this messy little garden could teach Zoe everything that it means to me.
Perhaps it is too much to ask a modest backyard garden to teach a child about thankfulness, interconnectedness, and morality. But, here is a story about why I think it is worth a try.
Our backyard is a wild, overgrown, semi-cultivated children’s museum of educational opportunity for a toddler. Before she was born I daydreamed about gardening together. She would play on a blanket or be strapped to my back while I planted, weeded, and harvested. We would talk about where food comes from. Watch it grow out of the ground. Thank the worms that helped the dirt. Taste food right off the vine. Some of this came true in practice.
I want my daughter to understand that food is not something that magically appears in a grocery store. I want her to be aware that everything we do depends on people we do not know, plants, animals, rain, bugs, and our actions too. I do not want her to take things for granted. I would like her to think of the whole lifecycle of everything we use and the impact of our actions. There wouldn’t be so much darn litter in our neighborhood if the kids (and adults) had some respect for the things they used and some awareness of what happens after they toss it on the ground. I would like Zoe to learn respect, awareness, and thankfulness. A good place to start is to plant a garden.
I am not much of a gardener. I only started a garden maybe five years ago. It is messy and weedy and not everything grows the way it should. But every year we eat something that comes from our backyard and each year I have some additional success (and additional failures). I am learning. I want my daughter to learn from the get go.
What is she learning? Right now our biggest lesson is distinguishing between red and green tomatoes and only picking the red ones. But I don’t stop her from exploring and picking, even if it is a green tomato or a not-yet-finished eggplant. She will learn. And as she does we will talk about where the food that we buy at the store grows – who takes care of those plants? What water do they use to give the plants a drink? Is it from a rain barrel like we have at our house? Where does the water come from when it comes out of a hose? How did the food get to this store? How did this cereal get in this box? Did it come from a plant? If we can’t plant cereal in our garden, where does it come from?
Imagine that everyone thought about all the steps in the long long chain that brings a person Cheerios in the morning, and everything else that we eat, and everything else that we do.
Gardening together is a good place to start.