In the back room of a crumbling old church in Norwood,Ohio, is a room filled with treasures found in nature, a turtle, and a tent. This was the room where Erin Lockridge, of Woven Oak Initiatives, told the stories of Gordho the groundhog and Rhonda the rat, to the neighborhood children in her garden camp program, including mine, who never wanted to miss it, and would cried for awhile if he realized he did. Sometimes I was curious as well and I stayed.
I'm always intrigued with what Gordho and Rhonda was up to. One day, Gordho, the main character, was tricked by Rhonda to leave his nest so Rhonda could take over and snuggled in for the winter. Her stories evolved along with the changing season and what's going on outside.
The kids listened intently and sometimes raised hands to add more stories about what they did at home. "I made a home for Gordho outside of my house," one would say. I was wondering then if they would just refered to all groundhog as Gordho, that has become a familiar name to them.
Then they would run outside and ready to play and to explore the garden. There were chores: watering the garden, weeding, peeking into caterpilars. Work stations they could pick from, depending on the season and what they would be cooking today. Or play under the shade of the massive oak tree. Sometimes they would make the house for Gordho or rake leaves and get covered in it.
The garden was made especially for this, named appropriately as "Children's Garden", sat in front of the convent of the church and a small greenhouse where at this time of year was full of harvests of butternut squash and straws. Erin and Robert, her husband, considered themselves the Parish farmer. They farm all over the neighborhood to provide ingredients for their "Parish pizza" that opens every Friday at the old coffee shop across the street from the church. This is their ministry. This year, they were awarded Sustainability Heroes by the Xavier University.
I recalled one morning this spring, neighbors gathered in front of the church to start new gardens in their homes with the Lockridges' leadership. Everyone would take turns to help set up the other's garden until it's finished. We rolled the grass, poured a mixture of compost on the bed. Then we waited for two weeks before we speed seeds.
That morning before we started, Erin reminded us that what we we were about to do, growing food and bringing nature back to our neighborhood, were not about being hip. It's about our connection with our God, our offering back to Him.
I needed that reminder.
Outside at the camp, one of the stations was this large canvas of a tree drawing where children could stamp images of apples with crabapple cuttings and tempera paints. Why I was not surprised that my children would lingered more here...
As this year was the time for harvest, the children did the same. My daughter had so much fun harvesting this squash (taken a week before).
The children learned to make the snack they would eat at the camp. Erin make sure everyone had a "job" they get to do. This is one of the highlight of the camp based on my son's experience. He was so excited to have the job to crack an egg one time, and continued this at home. Something that I was not brave enough to encourage at home before.
This time there's no specific jobs for the children since all they had to do was to "mash and crank" the machine to make apple sauce. They neatly lined up and eager to wait for their turn as "masher and cranker". When they came back inside, they enjoyed the apple sauce and animal cracker at snack, where the room suddenly turned so quiet... until each demanded for seconds and more apple sauce.
This was the prayers they sometime sang before snack, other time, The Doxology was used.
"The silver rain
The shining sun
The fields where the fox and rabbits run
And all the ripples of the wheat
Are in the bread that I do eat
So, when I sit for every meal
And say a grace I always feel
That I am eating rain and sun
And fields where fox and rabbit run."
(It's a poem by Alice Corbin Henderson titled "The Harvest").
I love that song of praise and I felt the present of God enjoying us enjoying Him.
Even if you are not into that sort of thing, taking the time to appreciate the earth and the sun and the rain and the peace that we do have is all good.
The Garden Camp was ended last week, and they close the season with a Harvest Meal tonight that will be prepared by the 8-12 year old class. But if you are interested to sign up for next year, check out Woven Oaks Initiatives' website: wovenoaks.org
Note: Originally posted on October 9th, 2015