Learning through the Lens of Gardens
Every year when late spring comes around, many families start to think about tending to their gardens, growing their own food and being able to easily access food grown locally. Gardening and local food are two interests that can connect children to the seasons, their local environment and with their community.
Gardening is a multidisciplinary activity embedded with learning every step along the way, from botany to soil science to meteorology. At home, gardening can take place in either a garden plot, porch containers, and/or window sills. And for families who don’t have access to yards or porches, community gardens are an excellent community-based resource. Many communities in the Pioneer Valley have community gardens, including Northampton, Amherst and Easthampton, and organizations like Help Yourself engage volunteers in planting edible gardens and orchards in public spaces.
Families can use their home or community plot to grow fruits or vegetables to enter into the county fair, sharing what they have grown and learn with their peers in 4H exhibit halls. They can swap their harvest and seeds with neighbors or participate in organized food and seed swaps. Look to Valley Food Swap and Easthampton Seed Bank for upcoming events.
Families can also use their plots to grow an extra row of food to donate to their local food pantry, opening up the opportunity to discus the hard topic of food security while empowering children with ways they can support members of their community experiencing food insecurity.
But garden-based learning doesn’t need to be limited to a garden plot. Take your growing interests out into your community, where you can find numerous community-based resources and events to support your learning, from intergenerational skillsharing, garden tours, and botanical gardens. By transplanting an interest in gardening into your community, you can expand your learning experience by integrating a wide variety of indirectly related interests, like history, food security, and even math and science.
Events happening outside of your garden can include garden tours, either of private gardens or in community spaces, spotlighting the art and science of gardening. Pittsfield and Northampton both have organized weekend garden tours, and places like the Berkshire Botanical Garden and Smith College Botanical Garden are great for self-guided tours. Even our living history museums have gardens to tour, giving families a glimpse into what a garden might have contained in the Colonial Era, what plants they might have grown for medicine or to use as dyes, and how their harvests were preserved.
Gardeners and farmers are also great community-based resources families can tap into to support an interest in gardening. Lots of skillsharing can be found at farmers’ markets and during CSA pick-ups, and locally grown produce can inspire your family to grow the same at home. And gardeners showing off their private gardens during a tour are gems for hearing about the art behind their gardens while discovering what plants might thrive in the habitat of the Pioneer Valley as opposed to the habitat found in the Berkshires.
Using the seasons as a catalyst for learning can help connect kids to their environment and the seasonal cycles of their community. Gardening is just one activity that is on many minds every spring. Stop and think what else cycles around each year and how you can use it as a point of entry to community-based education. Then take advantage of your local resources, following your interests and education through community engagement. Check out our post, Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Resources that Support Garden-Based Learning.