Giles Smith Shares Inspiration for School Gardening

Giles Smith is a teacher in a SBS (Social Behavioral Skills) unit in an Elementary School in the East side of Austin. He has participated in three courses offered at SFC-Citizen Gardener, Community Garden Leadership and School Garden Leadership. This week, he visits the SFC blog to share why he engages in the important work of teaching children where food comes from, sharing with them the pleasures of gardening and the importance of food justice and sustainability.

by Giles Smith

Aristotle tells us, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Since I have been working in education, this quote has taken on a deeper meaning for me. As a new teacher in an Austin public school, I have dared to incorporate a gardening component into my curriculum. As this article is being written, the school garden where I will be planting my "bitter roots of education" is still overgrown with local perennials interspersed with endangered remnants of the spring planting of one of our second grade teachers and her class of mini-gardeners. The overgrowth is teeming with sunflowers, providing shelter and sustenance to a host of beautiful and useful friends who burrow, buzz and fly around our school’s interior patio. Our garden oasis is home to six raised garden beds neatly lined with rectangular blocks of limestone.

A school garden is a wonderful tool, and can be used as an anchor to which many lessons may be tied. For example, math lessons taught around a well-organized garden bed can be introduced to teach the concepts of geometrical shapes, measurement, such as finding perimeter, area and volume. In science, discussions concerning reproduction and the life cycle of plants and insects, photosynthesis, water-cycle and conservation among others may be had. Students can also be engaged about important socio-economic issues surrounding sustainability, access, food sovereignty and social justice, issues that have become constant topics in our local, national and international discourse. Lastly, a garden that will be shared by several people or groups of people, provides many opportunities to develop social skills. Among them are effective communication, planning, organizing and conflict resolution techniques.

This calls to mind another favorite quote: “Las semillas caidas al pie de los arboles germinan.” This proverb from the Afro-Cuban Lukumi tradition, an ancient spiritual tradition preserved by enslaved Africans and their descendants, is translated as, “The seeds that fall at the feet of trees germinate.” If one asks an elder what this means, they don’t speak of a garden or a forest. Here, the seed is a metaphor for children. This proverb speaks to the relationships of elders with children. Just as a child, a seed needs good, fertile conditions to be conceived, and as a plant sprouts, a child grows. Thus, the elder is to a child as the gardener is to a seedling. The stewards of this geocentric ancestral tradition understand the importance of teaching the next generation the knowledge of survival and thriving. They also know the importance of the “oko,” the farm or garden, in the life of all inhabitants of the earth. Perhaps that is why it is the central idea to one of their most important teachings--and to mine.