An Educational Experience

Back in February when the Sunflower River stewards held our annual planning retreat we spent some of our time hanging out at a local coffee shop. It must have been quite a site to see with all our notebooks and little post-it note agenda items spread out and traded like a game of Gin-Rummy. So maybe it was no surprise that a woman sitting next to us asked us what we were doing. We explained who we were and about the farm. Ms. Berry in return introduced our herself as a school teacher at a Cottonwood Classical, a local charter school. She invited us to come present to her 7th grade class on some topic about the farm, preferably related to New Mexico history – but clearly she just wanted to expose her students to the farm and our skills. Just the previous day we had been talking about some of our larger goals for the farm and had really decided that education was going to be a large part of what we would be doing for many years to come. This was a perfect opportunity to start. We talked and settled on teaching the three-sisters method of planting corn beans and squash, which had been very successful for us the previous year.

For some reason I offered to do the actual presentation, and Kat saved me by agreeing to help out with the research materials. I have never taught any class under the grade of freshman college. I couldn’t even think about what I was like in 7th grade (except that I unsuccessfully ran away from home for about 20 hours). So I started getting ideas for a presentation from anyone I could think of asking. Luckily one of my fellow nursing students was a former elementary school teacher. He guided me through a possible lesson plan. I settled on a hands on model demonstration of planting three-sisters. So that the students could try and solve the problem themselves and then we could go through how Native Americans had solved for planting corn,beans, and squash together. I combined this with a simple but somewhat flashy PowerPoint presentation with a few surprises mixed in to keep everyone interested.

So with my presentation and boxes of dirt and sticks (to represent the garden) I headed out to teach five classes of 7th graders. Ms. Berry and I settled into a nice structure for the class and by the third class I felt like I actually had a handle on teaching at least this material. I quickly learned that yes bugs and fish-heads (a traditional fertilizing method) do get lots of attention. I also learned that 7th grade girls are not very squeamish about worms (I brought real dirt from the garden). I counted my teaching success when anyone said they wanted to get turkeys for their garden to eat squash bugs. And by the end of the day I was exhausted. I was also really pleased that Sunflower River had something to share with 7th graders. I also realized that we had one class written under our belt and we could do more with a little thinking about what we could teach next.

Alan talks about the Sunflower River rhizome network. That is other farm or micro-farm projects that we are part of or help support in some way. The physical manifestations of those projects are great opportunities to build skills and knowledge. I hope to start counting our teaching as part of that network. If only one student plants the three-sisters this year in their family garden (and I was glad to hear that many did have parents at least that gardened) then it was a great success. And if this opportunity just makes one student do a little more gardening at home I would be glad for the time and effort.