Hands-on Sustainability Curriculum

If You Give a Kid a Shovel
by Joe Gillespie

Have you ever watched kids dig potatoes for the first time? It is like a treasure hunt. Or experienced the joy of pulling a beautiful, long orange carrot, washing it, and eating it right then and there? There is no substitute for these experiences.

I have been gardening with students for a long time. More recently, I have written a couple of successful grants to purchase wind turbines and solar panels, along with community educational materials on alternative energy. For years, I did all of this with sixth graders. When I got bumped to eighth grade, I began teaching a course called Sustainable Living. I believe that I am teaching important life skills, and preparing students for a new future that may be much different than our current way of living.

Sustainable Living is a semester-long, elective class designed to teach students about sustainability through the use of our extensive garden, our rooftop solar panels, and small wind turbines. We immerse students into the world of gardening and eating the good food that we grow. With our thirty raised beds, a greenhouse, extensive worm bins, and composting area as an outdoor classroom, we learn about everything from building good soil to seed germination to preserving our crops. We monitor our own solar and wind energy production, and cook and prepare food twice a week.

Every day is a little different and always very hands-on. I have found something very interesting about teaching gardening over the years. There is usually no immediate gratification, which is what students are used to and what they desire. Other than seeing a radish seed pop out of the soil fairly quickly, most plants take two to three months to grow to a harvestable size. And there is all of the weeding and watering to do. Yet the reward is often so great, that if you can just get them that far, the concepts they learn are deeply ingrained in their being.

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