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‘We’re Working the Earth, and We’re Working on Respect’
Thursday, April 29, 2021


Corson Fox-Valenzuela grunted as he stuck the garden trowel in the dirt and attempted to jack up a hefty green weed. He tugged from one direction, then went around to the opposite side of the weed and pulled.

He moved to a third side, then a fourth, finally yanking the monster weed out as he fell onto his backside.

Sometimes class can take a little more muscle than turning a page.

Fox-Valenzuela was among about 20 fifth- and sixth-graders from Syringa Mountain School who spent three hours this past week helping Lynea Petty do some spring cleaning at the Hope Garden in Hailey in celebration of Earth Day.

“We want to help their garden grow,” said Eduardo Cruz. “We want to help The Hunger Coalition’s garden grow. And we want to learn how to garden better.”

While the fifth- and sixth-graders worked at the garden, kindergarteners canvassed Heagle Park picking up trash, as others made plans to help at the ERC’s upcoming Clean Sweep, to pull knapweed along the bike path and recycle timber to refurbish the school amphitheater.

“A big part of our curriculum is working outdoors. We have our own garden where we grow food for ourselves, and we wanted to help out The Hunger Coalition. What better way to help the Hunger coalition, to help out the community, than to help them get their vegetable beds ready,” said teacher Pat Owen.

Owen noted that the youngsters were learning about composting and how to thin strawberries as they worked in the garden. But their experience there is also part of a study on world economy, which takes  them from the hunter-gatherers through the present time when most Americans get their food courtesy of workers who grow it and others who prepare it.

The students grow sunflowers, onions, potatoes, rhubarb, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes and more in their campus greenhouse. And they’re designing their own business as they prepare to hold a community plant sale on June 1-2 utilizing plants they started last fall in their garden.

Grace McFarland, Bloom Farm’s new food production coordinator, showed several of the students how to thin strawberries that stretched across the garden like a spiderweb. The students will take some of the excess strawberry plants back to school for their plant sale.

“I love seeing young people get the opportunity to become familiar with their natural environment by working in the dirt. And I think it’s good when we can introduce them to what it’s like early in the season—not just when everything’s in full bloom.,” said McFarland, who studied sustainable agriculture in North Carolina.

“For me, it’s a mind-blowing experience that kids don’t always know where our food comes from. It’s great to try to close that gap.”


Lynea Petty, who oversees the Hope and Bloom gardens, as well as agricultural production in The Hunger Coalition’s new greenhouses, said it felt good to be resuming such activities with youngsters after a year in which such activities were off-limits due to COVID.

She gestured to big bulbs of garlic, spinach and rhubarb that were already emerging from the ground.

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to come out and see plants again and to work together again. I see a lot of joy in simple things. They’re not learning deep ecological principles, but they’re beginning the journey to awareness as they begin to see how they are interconnected with nature, with each other,” she said.

Owens echoed the idea that working in the garden addresses the human spirit, as well as nature.

“We learn sustainable practices. We’re working in the ground. We’re working the Earth. And we’re working on respect,” he said. “It makes my day when I see the kids make eye contact, when I see them evolve into a whole person. It’s great to see that they understand nature is part of their world. And I love it when they understand we also need to give back to our community.”

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