As February ends we find ourselves enjoying unusually sunny days. The air feels soft, the sweet scent of thawing soil lingers in the air, and the anticipation of spring feels tangible (even though I tell myself it’s too good to be true). With temperatures nearly reaching the 60’s today, I crack open the office door to let in some extra sunshine and seagulls echo in background throughout Main Street. Everything feels quiet and still. Last week, we had a similarly sunny day with temperatures almost in the 70’s. At Backyard Growers concerns about our irregular climate are always in the back of our minds, yet we are still human and so we arrived at the office giddy wearing short sleeves and sunglasses and and spent our lunch break at Good Harbor with our favorite pups.
But we were not the only giddy ones in our office last week. During February break, Backyard Growers hosted over 20 children in our office for 3 days of vegetable-based programming. Sarah, our Youth Education Coordinator serving with TerraCorps created an interactive curriculum for children to learn how people have grown food throughout history, explore the lives of bugs who help our plants grow, and leave as young botanists confident in their knowledge of the anatomy and life cycle of plants.
Through our office walls I heard lots of giggles, “oohs,” and “ahhs”, and stopped over to say “hello” to my future gardening friends. When I dropped by they were constructing a worm habitat: a blanket fort with pillows and sheets representing soil and grass and a peaceful dark home where worms would want to live. Before assembling their fort, each child was able to explore a real worm habitat and hold worms in their hands. When I walked into the room, suddenly a flock of young artists shoved their garden journals in my face. They were drawing and writing about their worm experience and I asked them to tell me a little bit more about it. “The worms were slimy! And cold! But warm at the same time. I really liked them a lot!,” a young girl said to me before leaving her journal in my hands and crawling back into the worm habitat she and her friends had constructed.
Worms weren’t the only exciting activity. Students planted their own seedlings after learning about the anatomy of plants and assembled their own tissue paper flowers that didn’t just include the petals, but contained all the roots and shoots. Kids learned how to milk a cow with the help of a cardboard cutout and even made their own butter in a jar. They sat around in a circle shaking cream till it coagulated all while singing a jolly tune about the butter making process. Once butter formed the kids enjoyed it fresh atop homemade pancakes made with wheat berries from Alprilla Farm they crushed using our hand cranked mill. Inspired by Eric Carle’s illustrated book, Pancakes, Pancakes the children grew in their understanding of how work on the farm becomes the food on our plate.
“It was really cool seeing the kids realize how much work goes into every single ingredient in their food. To them they might have a simple idea of pancakes coming from a box but to get them to understand how much work goes into each step was incredible,” said Sarah. “After sampling their homemade pancakes, one kid exclaimed, ‘these are the best pancakes I’ve ever had!’ And I think that’s because they did the work of finding the eggs, milking a ‘cow,’ grinding the flour, and making the butter. They were really grasping how hard people are working to put food on our tables.”
What was incredible about Sarah’s curriculum was the continuous thread of how hard farmers, gardeners, worms, bees, and animals have to work to produce the food we eat. From playing a pollinator relay race, to seeking out necessities for seeds to grow on a scavenger hunt, to understanding how worms break down our food— every element of the February Break Program highlighted the complexities and the accomplishment of life’s persistence to grow. Sarah reflected, “Some kids came in stubborn, determined they were not going to touch a worm. It was awesome to see how quickly they changed their minds and the excitement they had towards the worms because they were realizing how we can’t get our food without other creatures.”
At Backyard Growers we love working with the community and learning together how we can better incorporate fresh healthy food into our lifestyles; whether we’re working with the older adults at Rose Baker, the families at our community gardens, or the little ones of Gloucester eager to get their sticky hands in the soil in their school gardens. As the soil warms up we are eagerly crafting seed plans and getting ready for spring sprouts and seedlings. Make sure to catch us at all of Gloucester’s public elementary schools for Salad Days beginning in April and join us again at the Backyard Growers office for April break!
Written by Mackenzie Sains.