Convenience is the handmaiden of the modern world. These days, almost anything we desire is attainable without employing the virtue of patience. From communication patterns to the food we eat, we have inadvertently become dependent on this invisible force that drives our lives down Easy Street.
If the saying is true that nothing worth having comes easy, then at a certain point, we as consumers must realize the irony of convenience and ask ourselves some pertinent questions: Does convenience really come free? And if it doesn’t, then what is the true cost for living a life of ease?
On the surface, it may seem senseless to say that convenience comes at a cost; to view it as a debilitating crutch to the stride of civilization. After all, why would anyone want to write a letter when it is so much faster to send a text? Who wants to spend precious time at the supermarket when groceries can be ordered on an app and delivered to the front door? We are all guilty of flirting with this lifestyle. But in doing so, humankind is losing its ability to connect; both with each other, and with the environment that we live in.
What, then, can be done to unite the road less traveled with the path of least resistance? How can we go back to the basics just long enough to familiarize our future generations with the natural order of things? These are all questions that have been asked by workers at the Botanic Garden in Statesboro. They have responded to these issues by growing a children’s vegetable garden each year. Since around 1990, the Botanic Garden has offered part of their quaint little property as a public space for kids to connect with their roots. Open every Tuesday through April 28 this year, the garden is a seasonal experience that kids in grades K-5 won’t soon forget. Of course, parents and friends are always welcome to join in on the memories, as well.
Located in an ever-expanding “grow zone,” the children’s vegetable garden allows visitors to get some dirt under their nails while learning firsthand where vegetables come from before they reach the grocery store. It is laid out a bit like a maze and has a number of beds, trellises and arbors for growing different kinds of produce. The garden even spills over into an orchard that grows things like sugarcane, bananas, figs and mulberries. By applying a few basic gardening skills in such a diverse environment, the kids get a rare glimpse at nature in one of its freshest forms.
“We are giving kids an experience out in nature that they don’t get so often anymore. They are so busy going from activity to activity that they don’t go out in the woods, or hold an earth worm, or pick tomatoes. At the garden, they learn life skills about being connected to the planet. They learn how important it is to take care of the plants and animals that feed us,” said Carolyn Altman, director of the Botanic Garden.
This year, the kids will be gardening under the watchful eye of Nicole Kleinas, a graduate assistant at Georgia Southern University who is pursuing her master’s degree in Biology. She has some big plans for the garden this growing season.
“Lately, I have become super interested in heirloom vegetables. That interest led to my plans for growing a heritage garden this spring. I’m hoping to focus on teaching the kids about where these vegetables came from and help give them a sense of how far the plants have traveled to get here,” Kleinas said.
One of the things the kids will learn about is companion planting. Through their lessons, the kids will plant and grow a trio of crops called The Three Sisters. This is an ancient Native American way of growing corn, beans and squash together. On a biological level, the three plants complement each other very well. Beans pull the nitrogen from the air and send it to the soil, which helps the corn to become stealthy and tall. The corn serves as a support pole for the beans to climb up while they grow. The shady squash leaves keep the soil cool, which deters certain pests and prevents weed growth. It has been said that when all three crops are combined, The Three Sisters become the foundation of any survival garden.
Among The Three Sisters, kids will also grow a variety of heat tolerant plants, like okra, lettuce and maybe even watermelon. Being introduced to such a wide variety of food has proven to be good for the kids in a multitude of ways, including the expansion of their pallets.
“They see broccoli grown as a plant and they suddenly decide they like broccoli. It changes their perspective on the foods they will and won’t eat. It makes them more open to trying different things,” Kleinas said.
Working in the garden also gives them a taste of adventure.
“Opening their minds to food possibilities and then teaching them to nurture a plant is super important, especially when so many kids are technologically centered these days. For them to invest emotion, time and care into another living thing is an important part of growing into a well-rounded individual,” she added.
Exposure to new food makes the stomach grumble with curiosity. As a result, the students are always hungry to know how soon the vegetables can be eaten. In fact, one of the top questions asked by kids when working in the garden is “Can I try it?” This becomes one of those instances where convenience takes a back seat to patience.
“Delayed gratification is a learned skill. That’s definitely a lesson in itself: understanding that you have to wait a while before you can eat the vegetables,” Kleinas said.
In addition to the children’s vegetable garden, a number of other learning initiatives are taking place this year. Kathy Tucker, education coordinator at the Botanic Garden, offers grade specific field trip options that address the state standards in science and social studies, depending on what the teacher requests. While visiting the garden, students utilize hands-on learning through various outside activities and games. Around 5,000 kids visit the garden each year.
There is something hopeful in the large number of kids who will have a chance to interact with nature on such a personal level. We can feel better about sending them out into a concrete jungle knowing they have been exposed to the “how’s and why’s” of the environment. As John Muir thoughtfully said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike.”
It is comforting to know that our special sanctuary is conveniently tucked away behind Fair Road. At the end of the day, the garden may be easily accessible, but the art of patience will be the host until it is time for the harvest.
The children’s vegetable garden is free but it requires registration. It is open every Tuesday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. until April 28. For more information on other education initiatives and calendar events, visit academics.georgiasouthern.edu/garden/ or call the Botanic Garden’s main number at 912-478-1149.