April is National Gardening Month - a bit early when one looks out the window this week. Communities will be holding cleanup days, organizations planning plant sales, garden stores gearing up, but many schools are doing the most important work - educating youth to value and understand our earth.
Many schools don't have specific activities commemorating Earth Day, Arbor Day or National Gardening Month but they do educate throughout the year on this issue. A number of elementary schools in the Bemidji system are using the school forests to learn about nature and growing things. International Falls elementary schools are fortunate to have a corporate partner assisting them; Boise-Cascade will be doing a late Arbor Day presentation on tree planting and rejuvenation in May.
Other schools have after-school enrichment programs or interdisciplinary programming. Cass Lake Elementary has an an after-school program that is involving youth in recycling and saving resources locally but one that also impacts lives in Nepal. Plastic bags consume resources and blow in the environment, despoiling its beauty and causing problems for animals. Cass Lake children pick up debris bags but they are also selling reusable bags to discourage use of plastic. It also earns money to purchase signage in Nepal discouraging littering. Nepal has recently been invaded by fast food and packaging debris. People there are unaware how quickly the pristine quality of an area can be diminished by rubbish. What a great way to empower children to learn and care about another part of the world and to realize they can act to impact it. Cass Lake youth are also making newspaper pots and then starting plants in them to sell to the community. They are recycling newspapers, learning about growing plants and a bit about the business of horticulture. Who knows about where this enrichment program will lead these children?
Another school with exciting programming involving horticulture is J.W. Smith. It is part of a North American effort to track the progress of spring as it occurs across the country. Last fall children in participating schools each planted a Red Emperor� tulip bulb. J. W. students planted them on the south side of their building. The children report when the bulbs were planted, when they emerge in the spring and when they begin to bloom to a central compilation point that maps the progress. We can view the progress of spring as colors change from brown to green to red on maps at www.learner.org/jnorth/tulip. Of course, we will all be able to see live tulips at J. W. Smith! In addition to this exciting program, this school has two artists in residence who are integrating ecology, art, and culture through various art mediums - visual and performance-based. Integrated approaches such as this enhance and expand these areas of education, showing the interconnectedness of humanity with the environment. They make each discipline more engaging and thus reach children who might not be interested in a direct academic approach.
There are many things we can do to acknowledge gardening as part of our lives and to be actively engaged even if we don't have a garden. We can share plants, plant extra veggies and donate to the Food Shelf or to neighbors who might enjoy some fresh produce. We can buy locally-grown food, volunteer in the community to pick up trash, to work for community beautification, or to teach another person about the wonders and practices of gardening.
Beltrami County Master Gardener