Thank you all so much for reading my previous post on the Garden Camp. I am now adding the post with a very much needed "conversation" with Erin to hear her own words on this work.
Here it is.
Q: I wanted to thank you for organizing the camp, it's such a wonderful experience, especially for my children, to know and learn more about growing food, tasting the goodness of the earth. I also appreciate what you said the morning of garden set up in the spring.. this is not about being hip, or following any trends, it' s about worship, offering ourselves back to God and to connect with Him through the earth. Would you please elaborate on that?
There is a lot of momentum right now, around gardening, around fresh, local, organic food, around health, nature, neighborhood revitalization and community building. These are wonderful movements that are bearing a lot of important fruit; but for Garden Camp, I see the starting place being as simple (and complex!) as cultivating healthy relationships.
When I studied theology in grad school, we learned about an Old Testament theme that showed the connection between our relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. If one of these relationships suffers, then they all suffer. Through my little classes -humble as they are- I hope to cultivate right relationship between us and the natural world, in hopes that other good relationships will flow from that place.
If we can teach a child to respect a worm or a bee, then we can teach a child to respect her neighbor. If we can impart the importance of healthy soil, then a child might learn the importance of a healthy community. It's all so connected, but I believe that it starts with developing a sense of wonder and love.
Q: Would you tell us a story about how you got started with the garden camp and what is your vision with the program?
Garden Camp has actually been around a bit longer than Moriah Pie. I worked as an "environmental educator" when I lived in Illinois and loved it. When I moved to Norwood and married Robert, I started to wonder what gifts I had to offer the neighborhood.
I was working a part time job at Gorman Heritage Farm at the time and it offered me lots of inspiration on how to combine nature education with gardening and cooking activities for kids. Because of our very supportive West Norwood community and through a little grant offered by the St. E Arts Foundation, I was able to start offering gardening classes for kids in the summer of 2012. We played outside, explored Upper Millcrest Park, harvested vegetables from the gardens Robert and I tend, and made food together.
At some point, the kids started calling it "Garden Camp," and though Norwood Grows is the official title, "Garden Camp" is the name by which everyone knows it. Four summers later, we have grown a bit and become a little more streamlined, but the fun and liveliness has always been there. I learn so much from the kids!
Q: What brings you joy from it?
I used to plan every second of my classes with activities, games, and art projects. This year, we were able to have a children's garden, devoted solely to Garden Camp. Though the soil was a bit off and a groundhog ate a lot of our crops, the kids LOVED having the freedom to water, plant, dig, and harvest in the garden. I started to set out stations or options for them: bug nets, seedlings to plant, harvest baskets, magnifying glasses, the occasional garden-themed art project, and it was so much fun to watch the kids explore in freedom.
Before, I was dragging them from activity to activity and now I wander from child to child to see what is capturing their imagination in the moment. Some kids just like to dig holes; some want to check on the watermelons they planted weeks ago. ALL of the kids like to crank open the rain barrel spigot and water the plants. On warm days, this leads to lots of mud and water play. Once, we found a cabbage worm on a kale plant and a couple of boys had the idea to build it a home.
They gathered giant, dry stalks of fennel and built this enormous, multi-tiered structure for one tiny cabbage worm and then gathered "food" for the worm to eat. I didn't tell them that the caterpillar was a bad pest or that it probably wouldn't eat the food they gathered. The point was that their imaginations were sparked and their hearts were stirred toward this little caterpillar. So to answer your question, I get great joy not only from watching the children play and create and imagine, but from seeing them learn to regard the world with wonder and love.
Q: Any advice for the children? Any advice for the parents? what can we do in our own backyard?
My advice is to do it! No matter how little you think you know or how small your plot of land, there is something to gain from just putting a seed in the ground and letting your child explore. A friend told me once that a tomato plant sprung up in a sidewalk crack outside his house and he just let it grow. His son had a great time harvesting cherry tomatoes all summer from the "sidewalk tomato." And if any adult were to walk into our children's garden, they would think, "this is it?" It's pretty humble. But for a child --and for an adult-- even the smallest, most humble spaces have infinite things to uncover and learn about. So you don't need a great garden and you certainly don't need a lot of knowledge. All you need is a curiosity and a willingness to be amazed. That will be modeled to your child and they will grow into curious adults, which will affect the way they approach so many things in life.
Thank you Erin for the wisdom and story.