An Outdoor Education

Late June and early July means Summer Sprouts is blooming in the garden. The Summer Sprouts are high school and middle school youth who come to learn outdoors for three weeks of garden-based programs, and they are blooming brightly.

The youth are learning leadership skills, biking, building compost piles, and eating huge salads and kale dishes from our veggie beds. They are making new friends, and learning about plant care.

 Garden salad.

Garden salad.

This year, the Summer Sprouts program found me reflecting on something that motivates me all year long. There is a light year’s difference between learning in the garden with all the senses engaged, and learning indoors in a classroom.

It’s one thing to learn about good nutrition theoretically. It’s quite another to see the baby veggies standing so vulnerable in their seed leaves, to eat them for lunch in their mature glory, and to compost them in their faded, “gone to seed” state.

It’s one thing to learn about wildlife corridors and native plants from a chalkboard. It’s quite another to watch a juvenile hawk perched atop a Monterey cypress learning to hunt.

It’s one thing to learn about conserving resources from a book. It’s quite another to watch the water from washing your hands in the sink as it drains into a gravel basin filled with native stream-side plants.

 Hands-on education.

Hands-on education.

Youth, and adults too, learn very differently in a “hands-on” setting. In the garden, a hummingbird might zip by to nectar in a glorious blooming shrub. It might start to pour rain, or clear to beautiful sunshine. In the garden, the lesson might be dug up by raccoons before the teacher has a chance to demonstrate it. You can hold a wriggly worm, water a seedling bed oh, so gently, or watch the butterfly mating dance.

So we at Garden for the Environment hold a sacred trust. This mature garden is the work of generations of dedicated urban gardeners from 1990 to the present. The bright-eyed youth are companioned in the garden by memorial plaques to gardeners who have passed on. When we weed on our hands and knees through a cold dark January, it creates this laboratory for love of nature. The garden itself can provide an unparalleled and powerful experience for students, teachers, volunteers and interns, and for ourselves.

In a way we are like the school custodians. The teachers and students can’t have their experience if the doors aren’t open and the lights aren’t on. We’re like the parent who provides the drawing paper and a new pack of crayons. Now all the wonderful, imaginative, colorful experiences can flow.

We are so lucky in San Francisco to have a resource like Garden for the Environment.

Thank you to Urban Sprouts for again partnering with GFE on Summer Sprouts!

 Compost education.

Compost education.