Greetings from Park Place

For the past two years I have been lucky enough to work with high school students with special needs in the garden; teaching them about growing food so that someday, they can grow for themselves.  Twice a week I head to two different locations; one in Bristol TN and the other in Abingdon VA.  At both gardens, students smile when I arrive; knowing that they’ll be doing something fun in the garden.

I challenge my students to think with me; to figure out solutions to common garden problems and then solve them; often by working together in a team.  Yesterday was no exception and as usual I was thrilled with the results of their team efforts.

Let me explain: Our goal – plant potatoes.  Our task – figure out how to properly space them in a brand new garden area.  The challenge – this area was adjacent to an existing garden, fenced to keep groundhogs and rabbits at bay.  The new space was yet to be fenced; we’ll tackle that next week.  Students decided that their new garden would be attached to their existing garden.  No need for a door because their existing garden already had one.  We did however need to open the fence up on the existing garden to give us access.  And thus our math problem was created.

We know that a roll of welded wire fencing is 50’.  We know that we can wrap a 16’ diameter circle with 50’ of wire perfectly because we’ve done it before; twice.  These kids are novices when it comes to pounding posts and zip tying fencing.  THEY figured out that they needed to measure the existing fence where the two gardens will come together, and ADD it to the 50’ fence we plan to buy; making their garden space bigger.  Using a measuring tape they were able to count by 8’s (every 8’ we sink a t-post) and luckily we had a mathematician in the group.  Alex is great with numbers.  He finds the garden to be a dangerous place and usually stays away but today he discovered a love of watering and was glad to water the plants well.  He was very proud to add and subtract numbers; calling the correct numbers out to his garden peers.  His smile was worth a million potatoes!

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Once we knew where the garden boundaries would be the string and shovels came out.  “If I have two points –and I tie string to both points, what do I get?” a chorus of voices answered me “a straight line!” “What should we do to make sure our garden paths are straight?” “Let’s put flags at either end of the garden and use string to help us build the paths” they answered.  Now, for most high school kids this is an easy solution to comprehend.  To my garden kids this is process was really cool.  I was a proud momma indeed.  And my proud smiles make them smile in return; what goes around comes around!

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So, we strung up the garden; figuring out where our feet needed to go and where the potatoes should go.  My strong youth were eager to share the shovels to dig pathways and prepare the planting beds, while others cut potatoes with a teacher at a nearby picnic table.  Alex was still busy watering, and others were admiring the garden and noticing that some of the plants growing had not yet been signed.  “We need to make a sign for the strawberries Mrs. Peterson” said Billy; repeatedly.   “Billy, do you think you could make me sign when you get back to class?”  “Yes, because we need a sign for the strawberries”.  We’re all hopeful that the little green berries turn red in the next two weeks before school lets out for summer.

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Megan helped with the ruler.  Placing cut potatoes every 12 inches in pairs down the middle of the bed; others came behind her pushing them into the soil.  In less than 15 minutes they had planted almost 20# of spuds.

Then it was time for a break.  The temperatures were in the 80’s with a blazing sun.  But still there were smiles and laughter all around.  “We’re excited to harvest next fall because we can make soup again like this year” said Zena. “It was good”.

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Working with these teens energizes my soul.  They are so grateful for the work that they are doing.  I’m glad to have this opportunity to share my knowledge and love of growing food with them.  Because, as a teacher reminded me recently; “these kids struggle because they can’t read or comprehend what they can read; and most of them will have babies of their own; this class is giving them a foundation to help them feed themselves someday”.


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