The Most Idiotic Thing I’ve Read This Decade

Daily Kos
Thanks to Janie Sheppard

Well, I’ve found a frontrunner for “The Stupidest Article of the Decade” award. Oh, I’m sure it won’t win overall because we’ve got most of 10 years to go and lots of rightwing publications all competing for the title, but allow me to share with you the stupid article that was published in The Atlantic this week…

It’s a piece slamming school gardens and Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard specifically. They begin by painting a picture of a migrant laborer coming to the U.S. to give their child a better life, enrolling them in a wonderful American school, only to have the kid waste his or her school day picking vegetables. They go on to say:

The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt).

I’m sorry but you cannot get it any more wrong than that. I’ve been gardening with my boyfriend’s kids for a few months now and the amount of science (not to mention language, history, and math) they have learned from our adventures in the garden is unbelievable. The potential for future learning is even more incredible. Here’s just a little taste of what we’ve discussed:

  • The nitrogen cycle: We talked about how plants all need nitrogen, and the air is full of nitrogen, but most plants cannot use the nitrogen in the air. However, there are some special plants that CAN put it into the soil (beans, clovers, peas), so we plant those. We also rotate our crops so that our nitrogen-fixing plants put nitrogen in the soil all over the yard. We haven’t discussed the role microorganisms play in this yet, but we’ll get there. I’d like to talk about the role our compost plays in providing nitrogen to our plants.
  • Taxonomy: We’ve got a worm bin, so that was a good time to explain to our older daughter the big difference between people and worms. We have a backbone and they do not. We talked about how these are the two major groupings of animals, and how vertebrates include mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. We’ve also looked at fungi in our worm bin, and I explained that fungi are not plants OR animals – they are their own thing.On a more specific level, we look at how certain plants are related and then we plant them together. We have one patch for cruciferous veggies, and another one for garlic and onions, and a third for squash. At some point we’ll plant squash and melon together and then talk about how they are all related. I’m also waiting to pick a rosehip from our rose bush to show her that they look similar to apples because they are related.
  • Reproduction: This is a major concept for our little one, who is just now understanding that plants grow from seeds and plants make seeds. Our older daughter is more advanced, so we looked at all of the various stages of fruit formation on our lemon tree, watching the flowers form and then turn into fruit. We also looked at worm eggs and talked about how each worm is both boy and girl. Neither kid is hip to how humans reproduce yet, so there’s a limit on what we can discuss, but I definitely try to point out what I can to them when we notice things in our garden. I’d really like to tell our older daughter how bees and fungi (mushrooms specifically) reproduce. I think bees in particular are fascinating. And we might get a fig tree, which brings in the wonderful story of the fig wasp.
  • The Food Web: This is kind of a big one for our youngest daughter. I explained to her that spiders eat bugs, and our cats can eat spiders. If we get chickens, the chickens will eat bugs and worms and spiders too. I want to teach her the song “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly” to drive this concept home. We also talk about how we grow food in the garden so we can pick it and eat it. For our older daughter, I want to explain more about soil organisms at some point.
  • The Energy Cycle & Photosynthesis: A very related concept is how all energy comes from the sun. With the little one, we discuss how plants drink water and eat sunshine. I tried to explain how plants breathe in CO2 and use that and sunshine to make food and then exhale oxygen (which we breathe). Then, of course, we eat plants (or animals that ate plants, or animals that ate animals that ate plants). And everything decomposes because our worms and bacteria and fungi eat it. Then we put the compost in the garden to make more plants for us to eat!
  • Fermentation: We’ve made yogurt already and we’re going to make sauerkraut. When we do this, we talk about how there are organisms who are doing the work for us to make our food.
  • Genetics and Evolution: We haven’t gotten here yet but at some point we’ll talk about why there is variation among the different foods (how come carrots can come in purple, red, and yellow in addition to orange?) and how each plant got to be the way that it is today (i.e. evolution and domestication/breeding by humans).
  • History: When we were weeding the garden the other day we talked about how hard it was and discussed how for most of history, people had to do this or else they couldn’t eat. They didn’t have a store to go to. I also want to talk about how lucky we are that we have water available for our plants because for much of history, if it didn’t rain then people didn’t have water.
  • Math: We’re now maintaining two graphs. One shows how many days it takes each plant to germinate. The other one shows the growth of our pea plants. I’ve put lines on the graph showing the height of each family member, so we can see how the pea plants’ height compares to ours. Additionally, I have her measure things and do simple calculations (how many 1/4 cups of flour do you need to make 1 cup?) when we cook.
  • Language: Both kids are learning tons of new terminology related to gardening. Additionally, our older daughter is helping me maintain a notebook where we write down everything that happens in our garden. That gives her practice writing (and using and spelling her new vocabulary words). I’d like to have her write up a blog post about her worm bin too. She’s also got a standing weekly school assignment to write a story that is at least 5 sentences long, so I am going to have her write about the garden for that. I also have her read things like recipes when we cook.
  • Health: Of course we talk about the health of the food we are growing and why it is so good for us. Our little one talks with me about the colors of the food and how you should eat food of all different colors.
  • Fine Motor Skills: This is really for our little one specifically, but she’s still developing fine motor skills and working in the garden is a great place to practice (handling small seeds or picking small weeds or using tools, etc).

These are all things I remember learning in school, but you almost need to see them to really understand them. And it’s much more fun to do your learning in a hands-on way than at a desk.

This piece is crossposted from my blog. The kids and I have decided to pretend we have a farm, which we have named Flower Power Farm. We’ve painted birdhouses to put outside, and we gathered pine cones and covered them with peanut butter and sunflower seeds to serve as birdfeeders. Hopefully we’ll get a few chickens too. And I want to get a milkweed plant to attract some butterflies. You can see all of my posts about Flower Power Farm here:
Prequel: The Girl Scouts Visit the Nursery and Make a Worm Bin
Part 1: Preparing the soil and planting the carrot seeds
Part 2: Preparing the soil for peas and cruciferous veggies (and some philosophical musings on gardening)
Part 3: Enter the Pests
Part 4: The Carrots Sprouted!
Part 5: Gardening with the Kids
Part 6: The Peas Sprouted!
Part 7: The Cabbage Sprouted!

I’ve also been chronicling our efforts to get chickens here:
Part 1: Initial Planning for Chickens
Part 2: Oops, it’s not legal
Part 3: My public comment at City Council
Part 4: My letter to the city
Part 5: Bad News
Part 6: City Council Tables the Issue
Part 7: We Made the Local Paper!
Part 8: The San Diego Paper’s Anti-Chicken Editorial
Part 8: San Diego Response to the Union-Tribune
Part 9: The Union Trib Prints Our Pro-Chicken Letters

And here is a list of kids books about gardening, food, and sustainability.