Friday, 8 May 2015

Teaching Culture and History With a School Garden

During our second week of the CFE practicum, Susan Gerofsky came to talk to Jan-Lin and I about Chinese Market Garden. The point behind this discussion is that history and culture can be integrated into the classroom via the garden. In the late 1800s, Chinese immigrants  and First Nations peoples who faced discrimination in Canada ended up creating a symbiotic relationship by growing vegetables and selling them at the market. We can still see evidence of this relationship in today's many Chinese-owned vegetable farms in the Lower Mainland, as well as in the many half-Chinese-half-Aboriginal children born in that era. 

We also looked at the book “Eating Stories,” which also highlighted the fact that there is a story related to almost everything we eat!

This discussion made me realize that everything in our food culture has a history. When we teach young people about gardening and growing their own food, we can always incorporate that history to create a more well-rounded lesson.

Examples of how history and culture can be taught via a school garden: 

The creation and proliferation of school garden itself teaches us much about modern food history. In a classroom, we can discuss urbanization, development of large-scale agriculture, and how that led to the growing disconnection between the food we eat and where it comes from. As we became more and more disconnected, people became discontent, and a movement to rekindle our relationship with food was started, which eventually led to school gardens, urban community gardens, and the farm-to-table movement.

We could also talk about history of certain vegetables and their role in our food culture in the past compared to today. For example, kale has become a “fashionable” vegetable in the past several years, and almost every school garden grows kale of some type. Ten years ago, however, most people didn’t eat kale or even knew what it was. As students grow kale in the school garden, we can incorporate a lesson about the history of kale and how some foods are more popular in some cultures, who made them popular, and how.

Evolution of agricultural methods can also be taught via the garden. In school gardens we do most tasks with our hands, but we can teach kids about how things are done differently at large-scale farms, the scientific evolution of agricultural technology, and the repercussions of that change.

Through this discussion with Susan, I have learned that there are endless connections between food and other aspects of our society. As teachers, we just have to look a little closer, dig a little deeper in order to make school gardens a more well-rounded resource for education.

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