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.
Here we go again. The first day of school is a new verse to a very old song. Pencils are sharpened. The walls have a fresh coat of paint. There may even be 64 crayons in the box. It all seems so new,….. but is it really? Yes and no. The thrill/terror of entering a new classroom on the first day is anything but new. OJA has been doing this for a while and has had over one hundred “first days”, each with its share of excitement. Because of this, Monday won’t really be the first day of school. It won’t be new…. and yet it will be. It will be “new” because it’s a long first walk from the car to the classroom for many of our students (and an even longer walk back to the car for many of our parents) “New” is a big deal. There’s been a palpable buzz on campus as teachers have prepared their classrooms because “new” is a big deal. Even the eighth graders, who have been here for a while, recognize Monday’s importance because “new” is a big deal. It’s a new chance, a fresh start, a clean slate, but it is, again, an old school. It’s an old school with a rich culture, one that’s taken years to develop. Generations of parents, teachers, church members and friends have invested the resources that make OJA what it is today, a place where children are challenged and comforted, a place where excellence isn’t just expected it’s anticipated and celebrated, a place where students are loved. OJA is an old place that makes “new” a big deal.
It’s just like the garden. (Come on, you knew that was coming.) Now is the time to start our fall/winter garden with a seed planting blitz. It’s hard to look at a fresh plot of black soil raked smooth and not think: “clean slate” or hold a tiny seed between your fingers and not think: “brand new” or smell the rain and not think: “fresh start”. It all seems so new…. but is it really? The complex history within a handful of our garden soil could be discussed for days. The seeds that we plant are the inherited product of generations of farmers and gardeners who selected and saved seeds; each year planting only the best of the previous years crop. Even the rain has been through countless cycles of condensation and evaporation before falling on our patch. Gardens are old with a rich culture that’s taken years to develop. Children have been learning to grow food for a very long time, but anytime a child pulls their first carrot out of the ground the whole world seems brand new. Our garden isn’t new……but it is and “new” is a big deal.
Orlando Junior Academy is a diverse community that includes students, staff, friends and extended family that have come together to care for and learn from each other. Each member of this community brings something unique to the table, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. The food garden is a wonderful and appropriate place to celebrate this diversity and see food from a truly global perspective.
Tuesday in the garden the sixth grade class learned about and planted two food plants with strong cultural traditions. Their lessons were presented by two gentlemen from very different places.
One guest teacher was OJA dad, Emerson Mility. Mr. Mility comes from the Dominican Republic and has long felt that no garden (including the one at OJA) is complete without sugarcane. Mr. Mility shared his knowlege about sugarcane and its uses and also advised the students on how to grow a vigorous crop. He says we should be able to celebrate Christmas with cane juice!
Our other guest teacher was College Park businessman Giovanni Vianello owner of “Let Us Frame It” on Edgewater drive. Mr. Vianello brought with him stories of his father growing food in the “old country”. Mr Vianello comes from Venice, Italy where his family has grown grapes for many generations. The grape plants shown here are actually grown from cuttings taken from the vines at the Vianello homestead and will hopefully provide many generations of OJA students with a taste of Venice.
Thanks, Gentlemen for giving of your time and sharing your knowledge with us. You are helping to make our garden and our education truly “world class”.