The edible garden classroom

Sunita Rao

In early October this year, a group of children aged 8 to 14 years from Bangalore were poking around and pulling weeds in a garden. They had come all the way to the humid tropics of the Malnad region in Karnataka’s Western Ghats on a three day “Learning for Life” camp. What seemed like a boring, sweaty task suddenly turned exciting as one of the children spotted a burrowing snake in one of the vegetable beds. The exclamations were tinged with excitement, wonder, and plain awe.

We gently pushed away the soil and peered at the disappearing end of what appeared to be a very pretty snake. It was a Shield Tail, but we could not identify which one, it was possibly a Madurai Shield Tail. For a set of children largely unexposed to nature, it was heart warming that they did not once express a negative emotion. Nor did they question why a snake should be in a garden that grows food. They just unconditionally accepted that it could and should be there! I was delighted to say the least, that our session had been peppered with this unexpected interlude that would leave a lasting impression on the group.

A food garden, at whatever scale, is a whole universe unto itself. It offers not just an open classroom resource for young and old, but a way of learning and being that far surpasses many other teaching tools that we use. It is also something that one can do all one’s life and continue to learn from. In today’s context with the food crisis, climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity looming large, a food garden is a wonderful way to feel you are helping address these issues in a simple, yet powerful way. For students, it can be especially empowering to learn of real issues, while engaging with some very simple, practical activities.

Vanastree is a small women farmers’ seed collective committed to promoting food garden biodiversity and food security through the conservation of traditional seeds. It is based in the Malnad area of Karnataka’s Western Ghats. Women here have been tending very diverse forest home gardens for aeons now as part of their culture and homesteading. Helping children and teachers see the joy and worth of having edible school gardens is one of our ways of making learning a meaningful experience.

The author is an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and a member of Kalpavriksh. She can be contacted for further information and dialogue at [email protected].

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