Monday, 27 August 2012

a sweet farewell...

This is my farewell post... and so I gift you with a photograph of my favourite new discovery in The Orchard Garden:  Green Gauge Plums.  Perfumey, golden flesh in a tight skin with a dusky bloom easily rubbed off on jeans.  These little fruits make my heart sing.
As I prepare for my new position teaching food and gardening to elementary students in Portland, OR, I'd like to reflect on the huge learning experience of working in The Orchard Garden for the previous year and a half.
And so, here are a few of my favourite photos (new and old) that will continue to inspire me and guide me in my new teaching position.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


 We are excited to announce that we are accepting applications for the following work study position (10 hrs/week):
Volunteer and Production Coordinator for The Orchard Garden (TOG)

If you meet the following qualifications, please send a cover letter detailing your interest and experience to: 
no later than Fri. August 31, 2012!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Graduating, Hiring, and Growing!

Although classes are out right now, The Orchard Garden is in full swing!  We harvested 47 pounds of zucchini and 33 pounds of cucumbers for last week's CSA.  Our tomatoes and tomatillos are quickly ripening.  We're up to our eyeballs in bush beans and succulent chard.  This is the height of the summer!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Julia's Research Installation

If you haven't seen it yet, stop by The Orchard Garden to experience Julia's Ph.D. research installation that changes by the day, with the light, and the hands that tend it.  Flax is such a beautiful, practical and poetic plant in all it's forms (these photos predate Julia's latest 'human forms' on her desks).  Can't wait to see what's next...

Installation harvest visits

As a site-specific installation/research project, Threads Sown & Grown, Woven & Given, is an ephemeral and transient experience. This first phase of the installation, Threads Sown & Grown, has constantly changed - from a grid of strings marking the spacing of desks and walkways, to feathery green beds of small flax plants, to a sea of waving blue flowers. However, I have often wondered when everything would come together and feel "complete." Just a few days ago, I reconciled myself that things (windows, walls, bean plants, wheat, cover crops, and flax plants) would never synchronize their "becomings" and be what I had somehow envisioned. And then, it happened.

A volunteer and I pulled the last "desks" of flax, ready to be harvested for linen. At the last moment, I decided to try stooking the sheaves of golden flax, long strands with tousled seed boll heads, and placing the stooks on the desks of their origin. Suddenly, small human forms filled the classroom, with a taller figure at the teacher's desk. The few remaining desks of flax, left to ripen for flax seed instead of linen fibre, occupy the remaining spaces, and faint green cover crops delineate the original grid of the classroom geometry.

Just as things have come together, I have left for a holiday with my family in Ontario. I'm sad to be missing this beautiful time in the garden; however, I invite you to enjoy it before Monday or Tuesday next week, when the stooks will be gathered by The Orchard Garden team and the installation changes again. Bring your camera and send me a picture!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Benefits of Learning in an Outdoor Classroom

Sunflower in The Orchard Garden

Thanks to one of our readers, Florine, for sending us the following article describing the 'proven' benefits of outdoor learning.  Many of us who work in the field of garden-based learning frequently take it for granted that not everyone has been exposed to or understands the complexities and possibilities of learning outside.
While there is no generic one-size-fits all method of using gardens as learning spaces, we love that educators are getting excited about the myriad opportunities beyond the four-walled classroom!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Becoming teachers together

Student teachers performing in the outdoor classroom installation, August 2, 2012:
Conflict between teacher control and student freedom
My response to the installation:
~a feeling of juxtaposition between confinement and freedom, the plants were geometrically organized in their set positions but they grew long and free in their places ~a feeling of gratitude for the gift of life...~a feeling of HOPE ~ positivity, tranquility, nature as a healer. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)
Last week I noted that I would write about flax but right now I'm more excited about the incredible class visit we had at the installation yesterday with a group of BEd students from the Faculty of Education.

The class started at 8:30am, and at 8:00am I was still working frantically with Morgan, a work study student at the garden, to hang the windows at the installation. Finally completed the night before, the windows depict black & white images of school gardens in Europe and North America (I'll post more on this later in response to two students' questions: "Can you describe why you chose the pictures you did for the windows? and "What surprised you about the gardens the Germans created?).

"All this work for what?" I must admit, I frequently ask myself this question. However, the deep respect, attentivity, curiosity, playfulness, and shared teaching/learning moments that filled the garden and our time together yesterday reminded me that teaching matters, gardening matters, and thinking carefully about these practices is as vital as it is complicated.

I think we do need to pay attention to the culture and history of the students because working with the land can be a very personal and culturally significant project. However I always feel the most comfortable when I'm in the garden. I forget that others don't always feel the same. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

Moving through the installation, "back of the garden to the front, much like a classroom," students ate the flax bolls, the milky wheat and barley, discovered crisp purslane growing around the desks, picked out lambs' quarters (grey heads, in China, one student explained) and nibbled the leaves. "Sorry, we're eating your installation!" the instructor said. "Perfect!" I replied. "We always use our eyes - it's good to taste things, too."

I also felt a little sad because I realized how foreign gardens seem to me these days. I grew up with one until the age of 10, but haven't been around many since. The garden I grew up with definitely stood out in my memory, so it made me wonder how powerful gardens can be for kids. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

  • Why is it so controlled? 
  • Normally I feel calm in gardens, but in this controlled garden I felt uncomfortable.
  • Touching the plants felt nice.
  • The plants want to be free and I don't like that they aren't 
  • Are you doing this to try to teach children about gardening or to prove a point? (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

In response to that last provocative question: No, I am not trying to teach children about gardening (I'm interested in our practices as teachers!) and I hope that I'm not trying to prove a point. As a research project, I have set out to ask some questions: How do gardens become teachers? What all is tangled up in the very attractive concept of "connecting children to nature" through gardening, especially when we think about the issues of control, colonialism, eugenics, and confinement that characterized some historical school gardening efforts. How can we recognize this problematic, difficult history and re-imagine gardens as reconciliatory and regenerative places? Perhaps another way of replying would be to say that I'm interested less in "points" and more in growing "threads and lines" that connect ideas and people and places. Which brings us back to plants, and flax, and the things and relationships that matter so deeply to us all.

Thank you to Chessa & Morgan for assisting with photography, Jay & Natasha for calling us out of the installation and into the garden to harvest with you for the CSA and for preparing a delicious salad lunch, and especially to all the students for being open and generous, the course instructor for agreeing to participating in this research, and - most importantly - to the garden, the land, the storytellers, gardeners, and teachers who weave us together and make this all possible.

Please feel free to share your comments & reflections here.