By Amanda E. Doyle
I couldn’t care less about the school garden.
That’s what I would have told you when Brian and I first toured Mallinckrodt, in the fall of 2011, looking for a school for our son, Milo. You’ve maybe seen that Facebook meme, “I’m outdoorsy in the sense that I like drinking wine on patios”? That’s me. I reluctantly keep alive a few houseplants, and every spring I really, really mean to keep some basil and cilantro and mint going through the summer in containers on my porch, but it just never quite works out. Death comes early to the neglected herb “garden.”
So when we were shown what was then just a shadow of the glorious oasis we see outside our school these days, I think it’s fair to say both of us went, “Meh.”
Here’s what we didn’t notice then: it’s not about the garden. What’s growing out there is a community — not just our kids and teachers, but the little siblings who like to play out there before pickup, the families who volunteer to water over the summer (and take home some mint for summertime Mallinckrodt Mojitos!), the neighbors who are free to come and harvest what they wish, the congregants at Gethsemane Lutheran who host (and shop) our weekly farmers’ market at their church. Our garden, now expanded and lush, accented with inviting seats and shade and a beautiful fence and trellis, provides a landmark along Hampton and gives us an identity beyond “it’s the school just north of Target.”
And also: it’s totally about the garden. The enthusiasm and joy with which almost all of the teachers have embraced the garden as an outdoor learning space, as a place where it’s so much more interesting to learn math and environmental science than sitting at a table, have grown at remarkable speed. From Spanish to regular old second grade, teachers have risen to the occasion and developed curricula specifically because our garden is there. When Punita and other Gateway Greening folks are leading our kids through a very Socratic approach to learning about food (and through food, about sustainability and justice and consumption and free markets and equity and our fractured city and so much more), they are soaking it in while they chomp on veggies some of them wouldn’t otherwise touch with a ten-foot pole. They’re examining the migrating monarchs (thanks, milkweed!) and the creepy-crawlies (thanks, healthy soil!) and the paver stones (thanks, painting coordinator volunteers). Parents and grandparents are in the garden at least as often, weeding and prepping beds and building structures like the Bug Hotel.
We visit the garden often these days, just to check what’s growing, to read the signatures of fellow class gardeners and the sometimes-funny signage in the beds. We grab a few handfuls of basil or a cucumber to go with dinner. We try to keep our second kid from eating too much mulch. (How much is too much, I wonder?) And when I give school tours, or talk to anyone about our school, I make sure to point out the garden.