‘Learning Garden’ sows seeds of ecological awareness

Take a look at the result of this joint garden education project that helps grade school kids from inner SE Portland gain a hands-on agricultural experience‚

Johathan Suarez, Duyle Le, and Kimberly Alvarez from Lane Middle School show off part of the crop they picked at the Learning Garden.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As the students crossed SE 60th Avenue from Lane Middle School to the Learning Garden Laboratory for a spring celebration a couple of weeks ago, they were joining kids from Atkinson and Woodmere Schools, and from the Native Montessori Program at Richmond School.

“Today is about getting the whole community‚ all generations‚ together to celebrate,” one of the coordinators, Judy Bluehorse Skelton, told us. “As we get to know one another and share food, we connect with this land once again.”

The kids filtered through the planted rows, some cultivated the soil, and others picked vegetables they’d prepare for their lunch.

As part of their Spring Celebration, children and adults chanted a Native American song, “Haya-ha-haya”, expressing their thankfulness for the sun, the rain and the good earth as they walked around the sunflower garden.

“The Parks Bureau owns this property,” explained Jeff Milkes, SE Services Manager for Portland Parks and Recreation. “We have an agreement with the folks who created the Learning Garden with Portland Public Schools and Portland State University. It’s a great partnership, and fantastic use of the land.”

Explains the garden’s function
Asking who could best explain the program at the Learning Garden Laboratory, we were directed to Portland State University’s Prof. Pramod Parajuli.

“This is a ten-acre outreach and teaching station, located here in the heart of Southeast Portland,” Parajuli told us.

Prof. Pramod Parajuli with Sarah Goforth children from Native Montessori Program, part of PPS Native American Title VII program at the Richmond School 41st and Division.

“We’re trying to create a kind of a learning community where we not only learn about the human society, but also the ‘more than human’ society, together. We’re creating an intersection, a fusion; a kind of biological and cultural conglomeration,” continued Parajuli.

The professor said the collaboration connects PSU graduate students with the next generation of leaders and educators [grade school children].

“We are entering into an ‘ecological era’ that our educational institutions need to embrace,” added Parajuli, “to prepare future generations who will translate our ecological vision into what we do, how we teach, what we eat and drink; how we protect our food, water, and air.”

Atkinson School students Kennedy, Fiona and Saela are “picking their lunch” at the SE Portland Learning Garden.

Practically speaking, the facility provides opportunities for 250 students to learn about how the foods they grow relate to the region and to the agro-ecological and culinary cultures of Portland and the Pacific Northwest.

The students gathered for a short program, including a Native American song thanking the good earth. Then, the kids headed for the gardens and picked vegetables that were used to prepare their lunch.

As they gathered greens, the smiles on their faces were evidence that they enjoyed learning that produce comes really from the ground‚ not a plastic bag.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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