A Garden Missing her Children

A school garden is a stubborn old teacher, defiant in her dogged faith in tomorrow, despite all evidence to the contrary.  This year, she misses her children with her whole heart.  Every spring, I bring them to her.  Torn from their screens, they are bored and distracted.  They slowly fill her with greenhouse transfers, bringing her offerings of kale and collards.  Her soil grows warmer; she softens.  Forgetting themselves, they squeal over pill bugs and caterpillars; she conceals her smile.   They push tomato vines and basil seedlings gently into the ground, and she takes them into her heart.  They scan the soil and then the sun, impatient to see the sprouts they planted.  Just for a moment, they are hers.  Captivated by her harvest promises, they wait on summer sunshine.

This year, she sits abandoned.  Like sprouts waiting on the sun, the children wait for word that it is safe to come out.  This year, I have no children to bring her.  Grieving them, the garden has loosed her hopeful, early collards into a display of defiant yellow flowers, gone to seed.  The clover is overtaking the beds in a wild cry of purple and white.   It isn’t what I planned, and it’s so beautiful that it hurts.

It hurts a little less when I remember that her vegetables aren’t really the point. Her real purpose is to slow our middle schoolers down; it is to teach real food, slow food.  The garden at her best steals a moment from the test score arms race to sow a bit of silence in the school.  She teaches children to love the soil like farmers do.  She teaches children to love her soil like their lives depend on it, because they do.

The garden knows that the best farmers never turn Miracle Grow into watermelons, trading all the life in her soil for a tasteless, pink bloat.  The best farmers, her farmers, tend a microscopic crop of trillions teeming in a rich, black soil.  The garden teaches her children not to measure the health of the farm by the size of the yield.  She teaches them never to trade seven generations of soil health for this year’s crop.  She teaches that famers love their land and safeguard its ecosystems.  A school garden doesn’t really turn seeds into kale.  She turns her children into farmers.  Great schools, slow schools, turn children into farmers who can look so far into the distance that they see for generations. 

This year, the garden waits for her children, boiling over with the wild impatience of purple clover.  The thing about her clover though, is that it’s a cover crop, with magical powers. It can suck nitrogen clean out of the air, and pack it into soil. It can take a vacant, quiet bed and turn it into a trillion little lives, a paradise for young plants and young farmers. It can take a lost season and turn it into a rebuilding year. 

The garden waits for her children, the children that she loves, She knows that they are home with their first teachers, boiling over with the wild impatience of teenagers.  Families have their own kinds of cover crops.  Cover crops that look more like movie nights and long walks.  They taste like tears and brownie batter from a wooden spoon.  They sound more like dinnertime laughter and  one last kiss goodnight.  More magical than clover, they have a way of turning tragedy into empathy, and hardship into resilience.  For so many of her children, this lost season, this rebuilding year, may do more to cultivate farmers than the garden ever could. 

The garden waits for her children.  We wait beside her, their school teachers and their first teachers, we wait.  We have a moment, a choice and a chance to be stubbornly hopeful, to be slow schools. 

We can use this time to plant stubbornly beautiful plans for next year, plans to slow down, plans to see farther.  If we are careful, we can build schools more like this garden, teeming with a richness that we are only beginning to learn to measure.  If we don’t fall for the miracle growth metered out in test scores, but look instead so far in the distance that we see for generations, we may catch a glimpse of how gardens  persevere when their beds lie fallow.  We can triumph with her in the glory of defiant optimism, bathed in a field grown wild with purple and white.