ENVIRONOTES: Plenty of lessons to be learned in the garden

ENVIRONOTES: Plenty of lessons to be learned in the garden

Math, chemistry, physics and biology meet in the vegetable plot

With the idea of 100-km diets being widely promoted, the word ‘locavore’ entering our vocabulary and even the urban-focused Globe and Mail newspaper publishing a special supplement on farming, there can surely be agreement that school kitchen gardens are a worthwhile nutritional venture.

But they also provide many practical applications of classroom topics, all part of the learning experience. Obviously they can provide fresh supplements to lunch-time diets but there are more subtle elements.

Is this the opportune time to have a hard look at school curricula?

Laying out beds requires accurate measuring, cutting, shaping and construction to start with – elementary arithmetic.

Soil mix – sandy, loamy or heavier clay and their water-holding capacity open a window to physics lessons, with chemistry introduced when considering acidity (soil pH) and fertilizer requirements.

Biology follows as seeds are selected, sown, germinated and then tended as they grow. That means watering, weeding and protecting, which can demonstrate natural techniques to avoid application of artificial biocides – garlic alongside rose bushes to ward off aphids; onions grown next to carrots to deter carrot fly. Young entomologists can learn to kill on-sight the root-eating ‘C’-shaped cockchafer grubs, foster predatory ladybugs enemies of other harmful insects, while discovering the value of worms as aerators and decomposers.; there are many more natural defences; seeking them out will develop library research skill.

Once the crop has matured it must be harvested and cleansed ready for eating or minimal storage. Using a can, glass jar or plastic wrap. Unused plant and food stuffs should be composted – another biochemistry demonstration – and used as a soil supplement.

All this hands-on, practical stuff will help urban-dwelling pupils comprehend what is involved in bringing food to their tables.

There’s a definite series of connected events which follow a clearly-defined pathway – the food chain with its economic structure holding it together.

How does food get from the field to the kitchen and dining table and who finances each step along the way? It’s a bit like Dr. Seuss’ McKelligot’s Pool – “who knows what you will find.”

Gardens could be made available to parents during summer vacations, perhaps for a small fee.

We all need to eat, why not make food production a learning experience?

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca