If we think of life as a track and field event, it’s easy to see ourselves as long distance runners; bolting out of the starting blocks and leaping over hurdles that challenge us on our way to the finish line. To us, life can start to seem very linear. We learn a lesson, experience painful or joyful moments and then “move on”. Clearly in our own lives, things are not like they used to be and tomorrow, they will not be like they are now. The broader picture of life, however, looks a little less like a marathon and a bit more like jump rope. You know the game where two people are twirling a rope and you have to jump in at just the right moment and hop without tripping for as long as you can. In life we leap into a cycle that started long before we showed up and despite our little vanities will continue long after we stumble out. Things keep coming (and going) around and around. In our annual journey circling the sun we see seasons come and go and then come again. All around us nature is reminding its inhabitants that sustainability is tied to renewal. Nowhere is this more evident than in a vegetable garden. I have long railed against the all to typical (and often only) gardening experience provided to so many young children. A bean seed is placed into a styrofoam cup with some store bought potting soil and placed on a windowsill. While the student does get to see the miracle of germination, more often than not they also witness the desperate, fruitless struggle the undernourished and overwatered seedling makes to break through the glass. In a few weeks the row of shriveled remnants are discretely swept into the trash without the class ever seeing what beans were meant to do: make more beans. When a class of pre-k students can receive pea seeds from the previous year’s class, grow them, eat most of their bounty and save some to pass on to next years pre-k’ers, they can start to see themselves as part of a bigger cycle rather just an individual runner on their own road. This is the first year pre-k has saved some of the seed from their harvest for next year’s class. A class of fourth graders helped them pull pods off of their shriveled (but successful) vines. Already, they see themselves as givers in this game of jump rope. Although I don’t expect to see jump rope as an olympic event anytime soon, this rhythmic pastime will continue to remind me that I’m part of something bigger. So will pre-k’ers and their peas.
Horizons are often difficult to judge. Sometimes things that seem far away turn out to be just over the next hill while other things that seem to be right at hand wind up being miles away. So it is with time. A deadline that seemed an eternity away is suddenly tomorrow and an idea that appeared so far away, surprisingly pops up into view. The Edible Schoolyard at OJA is experiencing just such: an exciting, long awaited, sudden development. Our team has long believed that our student’s cooking experience could be greatly improved by providing them with a true kitchen classroom. We have felt that the surrounding community might also enjoy this “seed to table” experience. We had faith that there were others who share our belief in edible education and would partner with us to create a vision of something new. This vision is quickly coming into focus in the form of a “kitchen house” and “give back garden”. An idea that once seemed “miles away” is suddenly on our doorstep. Through generous partnerships with Florida Hospital for Children and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, we are creating an innovative space where students will be given the opportunity to learn about the source of their food. These students will also have a hand in growing and preparing that food, which we believe will inspire a healthier and more delicious lifestyle. Here are some architectural renderings provided by our design team partners, Midtown Architecture Studio and Hunton Brady Architects. Since this project lies on a plot of land across the street from the school our students will not be the only ones able to utilize this facility. Other schools will be invited to enjoy this space as a field trip destination without any compromise to our own campus routine.
What may appear, at first glance, as an emergency crisis is actually a well planned training exercise. Like Orlando Junior Academy, the Orlando Fire Department recognizes the value of hands-on experiential learning and was able to benefit last week by setting this old house ablaze. OFD has eighteen new recruits that were able to train in a “live fire” scenario in an actual residential structure, which is a rare and valuable opportunity. The house itself is located across the street from our school’s gymnasium and sits on a double lot. OJA owns this property and is looking to expand the current Edible Schoolyard program to address the needs of the greater community. Rather than simply bulldoze this building down, OJA realized it could be used for educational purposes by the fire department. Since it is OJA’s desire to be engaged in its community and partner with those who make that community a better (and safer) place to live, OJA agreed to let the fire department have free access. None of this would be possible of course, without the generosity of Florida Hospital and Brasfield & Gorrrie, who have agreed to support our Edible Schoolyard by removing what is left of the house and preparing the lot for future development. These are the kinds of partnerships that we see as being vital not only to the success of our school as an institution but to our graduating students as well. It is our hope that children leave OJA with the desire to be an integral part of their community, receiving graciously and giving generously, equipped and inspired to make a difference.
Today the kindergarten classes planted broccoli seedlings right outside their classrooms. The amaranth seeds they scattered last week have sprouted; next week we hope to have them plant cabbage seedlings and maybe some carrot seeds. They have done all of this with upper-grade garden buddies at their sides. Encouraging these different age groups to work together helps to build trust, confidence and a little bit of patience. This partnership is very interesting to watch. As students work with someone who is much older or someone who is much younger, they each seem to become more aware of their own behavior and its impact. Becoming aware of how our choices and behavior can influence our surroundings is one of the primary goals of the Edible Schoolyard, and this partnership does just that. The students themselves reap the benefit of each other’s consideration. It can be very satisfying to have someone younger look up to you, and of course it is also very satisfying to have someone older show you care and affirmation. It’s wonderful to watch both of these happen at the same time in our garden.