Community Writing and Community Gardens

Promoting Ecological Community Literacies Via Permaculture

School Gardens 1879

I’ve just started Mrs. Horace Mann’s English translation of Erasmus Schawb’s The School Garden: Being a practical contribution to the subject of education. The translator’s note explains that gardening may acclimate children to the industrial model of education–quite the opposite of my work in school gardens as an antidote to industrial education, but I’ll keep reading because I may be jumping to conclusions.

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Join the United States School Garden Army

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Rose Hayden Smith writes about the United States School Garden Army–a government effort to solve food shortages in the early 1900s, on the eve of WWI,  by promoting agricultural education in public schools and encouraging children to garden.  This effort, implemented at a time when agricultural practices in the United States had yet to be standardized by technology and monoculture, promoted a standards-based approach to agricultural education that erased important regional differences. But, it succeeded in spreading agricultural education across the country by overcoming class divisions and communicating the value of gardening to rural and to urban communities.  While the programs dwindled at the end of the war, Hayden Smith argues that the success of these programs laid the groundwork for their revival and use to address the food shortages that accompanied WWII.

New Roots

Part of the International Rescue Committee, the New Roots programs create gardening opportunities for refugees, many of whom come from agrarian cultures and who find themselves resettled in urban areas that are virtually food deserts. Gardening gives the refugees opportunities to exercise their skills, to build community, and to improve access to good food.


The Smithsonian Presents

Grown from the Past: A Short History of Community Gardening in the United States.


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Yes- Some people reject school gardens

…as a middle class fad that fails our most vulnerable students. (see Cailtin Flanagan’s 2010 article in The Atlantic)

They are wrong.

See Eleanor Barkhorn’s responseThe Portland Learning Garden and Lab— especially Dilafruz Williams‘s work, and this list of sources from Life Lab. These studies and many more document the many benefits of school gardens, such as:

  • Improved student health.
  • Improved learning.
  • Improved community.

Cailtin Flanagan seems more interested in attention-getting claims than actual evidence.

Foxfire: Making connections

I mentioned something to Sara Trunzo— a Unity College graduate who started and until recently ran Veggies for All, a hunger relief project that teaches farming to people in prison and donates the harvest to food pantries–something about wanting to collaborate about something. I don’t remember what, but she directed me to the Maine School Garden Network. In October 2015, I went to their conference, which may be how I started to think about writing projects in school gardens. That winter, I stopped at hello hello books in Rockland, and Jacob Fricke, former poet lauraete of Belfast, ME and current bookseller, asked me what I was working on. I mentioned my ideas about writing and school gardens, and Jacob introduced me to Mark Melnicove. Last fall, Mark and I collaborated on a panel for the Maine Farm to School Conference, and this March we will present our ideas about teaching for joy and wellness at the Maine Council for English Language Arts Conference. In these ways, like foxfire-we build connections.

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What’s worth doing?

In October of 2015, the Bangor Daily news ran a story about school gardens in Maine, which mentioned Mark Melnicove, who started the garden at Falmouth High School, and David Wessels, the garden coordinator at the Troy Howard Middle School. The article concludes with the words of one of Mark’s students: “‘It’s not school,’ Dexter Desrosiers, 17,said while digging up a forsythia plant in the sun. ‘I am doing something that’s worth doing.'”


Education: alternatives to the industrial model

Sir Ken Robinson illustrates the history of industrial education and it’s limits in this 11 minute video. He calls for education that engages our senses, aesthetic education. In this way, alternatives to industrial education follow principles that align with the Transition Movement, which calls for work that engages our minds, hearts, and hands.

Think about your past experiences in school. Did they engage you? Your senses? Your heart, mind, and hands?

At Unity College, where I work, some of my most motivated students are Future Farmers of America, who attended public high schools that focused on agricultural education.

Civic Agriculture

Civic agriculture, according to Rose Hayden Smith, is:

the movement towards locally based agricultural models that tightly link community, social and economic development.  Models of civic agriculture include CSAs, farmer’s markets, roadside stands, urban agriculture, community gardens, and farm-to-school/farm-to-institution programs…..civic agriculture includes school and home gardens…any place where people seek to connect land to the development of community or as an expression of engagement or citizenship.

In short, civic agriculture promotes community engagement through gardening projects: school, community, and even home gardens; farmers’ markets; coops; and CSAs  build connections between people and places. The local food movement–when it avoids elitist excesses–creates community and bounty by directing attention to what is available in our neighborhoods; to each other; to the Black Oxford Apples that grow in Waldo County, Maine;  to the farming families that grow food that nourishes us and the environment; to the local knowledge these apples and these people cultivate.

Civic agriculture functions in the cracks in our broken, industrial food system; it opens these cracks; it uses them to put people in touch with their food, with each other, and with the earth. Find a local community garden or start one near you!


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