The Organic Garden Educator's Dilemma

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You are an organic garden educator working with teachers and young people in schools and communities in order to help them to ...

[i] develop a positive attitude towards getting involved in gardening including food growing;
[ii] acquire gardening skills that are of practical use, and
[ii] understand the imperative and benefits of doing all this organically.

So how do you react when, at the end of a programme, someone says:

"That was great.  I have learned so much; it was such a brilliant course – and great teaching. I've already started on my own garden plot at home with my family and we will be growing vegetables next season.  We're also looking for a local allotment.  I love it: fresh air, good food and a sense of achievement.  There's just one thing, I'm not really persuaded about this organic business."

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  • Several aspects to this:

    1) Excellent - the student is growing / starting to grow food - therefore there has been a positive impact - they will reduce their airmiles and perhaps eat healthier meals / food as a result.

    2) Additional outcomes - they are out and about therefore getting greater exercise; they are doing things with family therefore increasing cohesion / oppportunities for intergenerational learning; social exchange. They are looking for an allotment - allotments are great places socially for the community - plenty of intergenerational learning, many opportunities (depending on location) for different members (cultures / ethnicity / religious background) to mix with common purpose - therefore social stability is enhanced; good tradition of sharing, contributing - this is all positive - in addition they will learn about other varieties, growing techniques that have been handed down through the years, exchange seed - generally enhancing community life. Plus debate around organic growing.

    3) It would be good to ask why? What aspects of organic growing are they not doing seed purchase; planting schemes / rotations or use of pesticides. As a teacher have you been too strident / rigid and is this a response to your teaching style? Encourage them to mix up planting, prepare soil and have wildflowers - thus reducing need for chemicals. Perhaps they have heard news report that no benefits of eating organic food? Perhaps this is good intially - the last thing you want to do is have your student put a lot of ffort in growing tomatoes, lose their crop to blight and therefore discontinue.

    4) Stay in touch as a mentor to discuss progress.

    5) Ultimately you have opened their eyes to a debate and throughout the course of the next few years different exchanged they have with peers, hear on the news etc. will inform their decision.

    6) Is it your place to control the outcome / judge?

  • I would answer that in a nutshell, teaching children to grow food organically is training them in a coherent and connected set of values that will serve them all their lives, no matter what the future changes bring. Organic food growing is a vehicle for interacting with the world, that takes a long-term holistic view, valuing respect, fairness and consideration for all other beings as attitudes that are essential for our survival on this planet. It challenges and offers an alternative to the popular corporate thinking underpinned by greed and selfishness that prioritises short-term gains over long term health, happiness and success. It is encourages connection between people, their environment and their food and discourages fragmentation and dissociation.

    If this is far, far too deep, I would just point out what is obvious to any 5 year old. Why would anyone want to spray out food with poison and then eat it?