A Connection to Nature
Immersing students in natural settings through our gardening and farm program helps lay the foundation for students’ growing understanding and appreciation of the world around them. The prime purpose of these studies is to develop an awareness and reverence for the splendor, beauty, order, and mystery of life, in all its manifestations. Conservation and protection of the environment, including recycling, are integral studies.
The Waldorf School of Garden City strongly values environmental responsibility and sustainable practices. This is evident not only throughout the curriculum, but in all aspects of school management and the physical school environment. The School uses natural products as much as possible, for building and construction, as well as for cleaning and student materials. Environmental studies are incorporated into many aspects of the curriculum, with specific focus in areas such as geography, science, creative arts, and the Gardening and Glen Brook Farm Programs.
Gardening and Horticulture Program
One of our students’ favorite courses is our Horticulture and Gardening Program. Through this outlet, our students learn healthy eating habits, how to manage and keep a garden, and an appreciation for nature. The students also have the experience of working at an operating farm. The local organic farmer at Crossroads Farm has provided us with the knowledge and skills to carry out various projects.
Engaging Our Students in the Gardening Program
The Gardening and Horticulture Program at the Waldorf School of Garden City aims to give students the experience and practical skills to grow their own food in a healthy sustainable way; not only for their bodies, but for the health and vitality of our planet earth.
A good motto is “healthy soil makes healthy plants which makes healthy humans.” We strive to help students make the connection that working to care for the soil is ultimately caring for ourselves and each other. Here is how it works:
The gardening program makes its own soil for the garden beds where we grow food for our cafeteria. On a daily basis, students collect the cafeteria compost, woodwork shop scraps, handwork room scraps, leaves, and garden debris. The goal is to connect their daily lives to their food and to demonstrate how materials can turn into valuable resources. All of these materials are turned into rich humus, teeming with microbial life, for the garden.
After applying the rich humus to the garden beds, the students learn how to plant seeds with proper measurements and spacing. They learn the practices of organic gardening, which excludes any toxic applications to the soil. Organic applications include crop rotation, a practice in which you rotate where crops are planted each season so the insects that favor certain crops will not make their home there. Cover crops, plants that add nitrogen to the soil, are planted on empty beds in order to enrich the soil and prevent soil erosion by their root systems. Beneficial insects like praying mantises and ladybugs are brought in to eat the damaging insects. Students are also taught how to use bio-dynamic applications, manure teas, and other natural pest deterrents.
Harvesting the fruits of our labor is a favorite activity. The students often cook the harvest right at our garden. We have a stovetop to sauté vegetables and make fresh salads. Part of the curriculum is to experience by taste how different local, fresh food tastes from conventional food. We offer a cooking and nutrition workshop in the middle school years and discuss the trend of genetically modified foods.
“Nothing happens in nature that is not reflected in the whole.” —Goethe
Goethe’s quotation is on the first page of students’ gardening journals to teach them that whatever they do in the garden affects not just their garden but the world itself. Toxic chemicals used in agriculture enter our drinking water and also evaporate into the skies where it will eventually come back as acid rain. Making our own soil, saving our seeds, growing our own food, and propagating our plants are sustainable practices. The gardening program teaches practices that are not wasteful and that will prolong the health of our planet.
Our interdisciplinary approach to gardening weaves together many aspects of our campus life and curriculum, and encourages students to appreciate the interconnectedness of all aspects of nature. They observe this correlation firsthand as they cultivate the school garden using materials they find in their everyday classroom lives, and in return, the garden provides educational tools, such as samples for botany classes and plants that can be made into natural dyes for fiber arts projects.
The profound relationship that develops as our students grow, care for, and harvest their plants completes the full cycle when these students nourish themselves with the food they have grown. Some gardening sessions conclude with classes cleaning, preparing, and chopping fruits and vegetables to make meals of salads and pastas using a portable stove right in the garden. Additionally, the daily salad bar at the Waldorf School of Garden City’s cafeteria is often supplied with the produce grown in the garden. Produce is also donated to local homeless shelters and food pantries.
Middle school students personally deliver surpluses from our garden to local food banks. These experiences expand their view to the macrocosm, as they begin to appreciate the power of sustainable agriculture in alleviating world hunger and poverty.
Additionally, our older students play an active role in on-campus sustainability initiatives including composting, recycling, reusing, and re-purposing, all of which help secure our garden for years to come. Students collect the recycling bins in the classrooms and the compost bins in the cafeteria on a rotating basis. They also re-purpose leftover wood-chips from our woodworking classes and surrounding trees to pave paths around and within our garden to keep weeds down.
Marine Nature Study Trip
Glen Brook Farm
Students are encouraged to find identity, meaning, and purpose in life by forming connections with their community and the natural world. Extended field trips to our 240-acre farm, called Glen Brook, develops an appreciation of nature and provides opportunities to develop values, knowledge, and new skills through the exploration of unique geographical locations and diverse environments. Glen Brook Farm also creates a platform where stories can be told and heard, where students learn about each other, about their responsibility to each other in nature, and about being “out in the wilderness”. Additionally, the Glen Brook Farm curriculum builds self-confidence and resilience, and allows students to experience a variety of circumstances.