Thursday, June 25, 2009

Love To Grow On.

The following is my sister-in-law's response to Wendell Berry's poem that she shared with me. I thought it was wonderful, and therefore am posting it today, because I think you will agree.

Love To Grow On.
By: Beatrice Steiner

About a year ago, I spent a summer working as an educator at an organic farm outside of Boston. The place had grass-fed milk cows and beef cattle, a five-hundred member CSA, a 4-H program, and nearly one thousand acres of rolling green hills and hayfields. It’s pretty amazing.

One day, it was my job to teach kids how things grow, so I instructed my class of about ten three-year-olds to plant sunflowers in a garden by the barn. One girl, after planting her seed just right and watering them, sat down next to her tiny plot of land and started whispering to the soil. When I asked her what she was doing, she looked up at me and said matter-of-factly, “You told us that plants need love to grow, so I’m telling my seed I love it.” I’m really not making that up.

Later that summer, my sisters, then ages 14 and 16, came to visit. I was giving them a tour through the 20 acres of cultivated CSA land when I bent down at a row of plants and pulled a carrot from the ground. Gasps of astonishment followed. “Ohhh my gosh, Bea, that’s sooo cool.” Although they knew and understood that carrots were root vegetables that come from the ground, they had never seen anyone pull a carrot, or, for that matter, a beet, parsnip, or radish, from the dirt. It was like I unlocked a whole new mysterious world for them, where plants actually grew in the soil-- they didn’t just magically appear sparkling clean and bug-free in the grocery store. The girls were totally floored by the experience they had had at the farm. My youngest sister actually came back for a week to work on the farm (completely voluntarily, I would like to add), and was bummed every day at five when we had to stop working. My other sister, the following fall, did an in-depth research project on local food as a consequence of visiting the farm.

My sisters’ excitement wasn’t an exception. Often, I was in charge of a group of about eight kids, and we would go to harvest beets together. In about five minutes flat, I would have two buckets overflowing. Girls and boys alike would be so enthusiastic, with limbs flying every which way, yelling and shrieking, all searching for the biggest beet they could possibly find. Sometimes a little girl or boy would plead with me, “Can I please take this beet home with me? I want to show it to my mom.” They would become attached to what they were pulling out of the ground, dragging their wilty-looking vegetables from one activity to another, holding them like treasured stuffed animals.

What I loved most about teaching kids at the farm is that it made their hamburgers and french fries mean something. They got to witness and experience the fact that their food originated from the earth, not from a cardboard box or a neatly-stacked aisle at the store. They saw that it takes some hard work (and love) to make things grow.

As adults, buying directly from farmers or CSAs puts food back into context as well. When we know our farmers and see the fields where our food comes from, when we witness the full cycle of growth, food means something again.

Photo Credit: Susie Cushner, Country Living Magazine

(To view more beautiful pictures of Appleton Farms, click HERE:)


Chantal said...

That is a very nice story. I remember as a kid, with the elementary school, taking the bus, brought our lunch in a paper bag and went out on a farm for a day with different activities. I remember the smell of the manure, I thought it was discusting. It's funny, when I think back. The paper bag lunch, there was nothing to keep the lunch cool. By the time I would eat it, a few hours had gone by. I was lucky I didn't get sick. I saw how they got the milk out of the cows. I wonder if the elementary schools still do these kind of activities here in Quebec. A few years back, my son went to visit where they have bees and how they make honey and other stuff with it.

A.Kelley said...


John and I are farm sitting next week, literally taking care of a family's animal farm while they are out of town - and when we visited, it was amazing to see all the free range hens and the pigs rooting around in the dirt. I can't remember the last time I saw a domestic pig before this...

I don't remember doing too many farm visits as a kid - I remember going to the zoo or the aquarium, but "farm day" seems to be rare. I have heard they are putting this sort of learning back in some school programs, but I don't have the facts. I'll have to look... I do agree that the manure smell isn't the greatest :)

Patty said...

Field trips cost money. At least around here, they don't do many of them any more. Although UGA has facilities that are good to visit if you want to see where your meat comes from...

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has some great stuff about asking kids what food comes from the ground--spaghetti was one answer...

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