Shaping young gardeners
It's been a long time since I've been able to confess this in public, but I listen to Garrison Keillor. "Prairie Home Companion" has been a favorite for decades now, but I find I listen mostly in the winter when settling in at 5 p.m. on a Saturday is acceptably after dark.
A few weekends ago I happened to be in the car, where most of my radio listening takes place, and Garrison's comments stopped me in another one of those driveway moments. I'd been wrestling with grocery bags and muttering about traffic, so I can't remember what preceded this stream of consciousness, but I do recall sitting for a while in the driver's seat just to listen.
"We live too much in a rectangular world," he said. I'm paraphrasing next, but he went on to say that we live in rectangular rooms in rectangular houses, where we watch TV on rectangular screens. We drive our steel rectangular boxes to offices where we sit in rectangular cubicles and work on rectangular computers. We even talk on little rectangular phones.
We need to get outside, he continued. We need to get outside where the world is not rectangular.
The temptation is strong to remain in and around our rectangles, but most of us understand the benefits of leaving those shapes behind. For children, though, it's no easy thing. Where I struggle with computer nonsense and still own a rarely used flip phone, my 8-year-old grand niece is a whiz at texting her friends. Her 3-year-old brother has his own computer. It's bright green and plastic, but it's a computer. And it's rectangular. Video games? They're unbeatable.
They have socially aware, environmentally conscious and very involved parents, but neither of the kids plays outside much. And because they live in a suburban townhouse with only a small deck for a back yard, they don't have a garden.
On occasion, my grand niece will pot up some annuals to give her grandma, so she understands what fun it can be to work with plants. She also understands that plants make people happy. Most of her friends, however, have never had their hands in a sandbox, much less in the dirt. These are bright kids, eager to learn and quick on the uptake. They're learning about recycling and environmental responsibility. They're learning about biology - about plants and animals - in the classroom. And on their rectangles. They're earnest and interested, and they want to be involved.
Imagine what they could do with some encouragement. We're all familiar with the research that says kids have little knowledge of where their food comes from. With programs like Growums, which is profiled on page 6, they can learn both by getting their hands dirty and by using their rectangles. They not only learn - surprise! - they have fun doing it. Employing the electronic media that's second nature to them and planting real seeds in real soil, they discover that food actually grows. And they can make it happen.
Once they've had a bit of success growing vegetables and salads, they're bound to want more. Childhood curiosity is an astonishing gift; it's one that seems to grow the more it's challenged.
We have the power to shape more gardeners - eager, enthusiastic, lifelong gardeners. And if they learn with the help of their marvelous rectangles, why, that's not such a bad thing, is it?