Food & Community: Tilling Organic Learning

Today I get to feature another guest post from my folleague (know what that is? it’s a friend and colleague) Lorrie Ranck (Lorrie first guest-blogged with her post Bumps! a few months back).  Lorrie and I are colleagues because we’ve worked together a lot (formally and informally, and once we even started a grant-writing business together, but after our first grant we decided we didn’t want to be grant writers – that’s a long story and maybe another blog post that we can co-write, if we feel like dredging up that saga). We are also colleagues because we talk the same language: teaching, learning, assessment, social action, student engagement, etc.

Lorrie is a friend because we have a lot in common and enjoy similar things. For example, we are both July babies born in the same year, we both have little toddler boys, we both had bad hair in the 80’s, and we both tinker in the garden, though she is a better tinkerer than I, as you will see:

Summer of Food I

Sitting at the desk absent-mindedly gazing out across the backyard my eyes fall to the rather droopy elephant-ear leaves of the two zucchini plants I nestled into the ground in March. Just beyond those are three plump dark green reticular pumpkins with just a hint of orange slowing wrapping around the squash in an autumn embrace. To the left, strawberry plants (sans berries) still thrive with the suckers sneaking beyond their brick boundaries, tomatillos and jalapeno peppers are making a comeback thanks to some hot days here in Northern California, and the bright, crisp stalks of rainbow chard cheerfully wave at me even after several cuttings.

The sugar snaps never quite made it except for a couple handfuls ready-to-burst-pods quickly plucked by little hands and devoured. However, the green bean teepee might provide for another serving or two yet.

In so many respects, the garden is my sanctuary: respite from the daily grind of the job search, playground for my boy, resting place for my canines, and generally a place of contentment, discovery, and reflection. Not bad for a 12×20 ft plot! I’ve learned, perhaps this summer more than ever, how this little space helped me create community, time and again.

Gardens from past years often produced an abundance of produce beyond what my family could eat or store. While I would offer these to local family and friends, more often, I’d truck these into work every few days and hope there would be willing souls with whom to share. You could bet that if lemons, zucchini, oranges or whatever vegetable was wildly growing at home appeared on a conference room table at work, it was a remnant of my presence.  Sometimes I put out a basket with a sign “FREE ORGANIC PRODUCE” in the hallway. Faculty, staff and students would pause, perhaps consider how they might use whatever was available, and just to be sure, ask me if they could really take something with them. That is how I came to know many of colleagues and how some students first entered my office: those few seconds of connection, of sharing, sometimes extended into broader discussions. As much as I enjoyed sharing in the harvest, the conversations that grew into relationships that grew into community from these organic encounters, well, those were and are invaluable. I can’t help but think of how this relates to building communities of learners. I’m not of the view that knowledge is necessarily the produce we pass forward or, if you are a fan of Freire, the Banking Concept of Education. After all, information is there all the time, it is ripe and ready for the taking. Maybe, though, knowledge is a compilation or weaving together of both individual and community actions:  preparing the space/laying the groundwork, carefully and thoughtfully planting, building of and tending to relationships, sharing of the bounty, and reflecting on both process and product. This, over and over again, each time with new “seeds” or techniques, with others in and outside of our community is why learning is not static but quite organic.

I’m interested to hear stories of your experiences related to food, community and learning. How do those tie together for you? What challenges and/or opportunities have you witnessed, facilitated or engaged in?

Learning Soup

I think that learning happens better with good soup in the stomach. Cold. Hot. It doesn’t matter! Campbell’s was right:  Soup is good food.

Beautiful soup, so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth of beautiful soup?

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Here is a new recipe for my ultimate cold-weather learning soup:  French Onion Soup.  This one is a vegetarian version — made with miso (good good food!).

Learning Soup

I know, I know — it’s early May and some of us can see summer from here.  But there is not much of a better dinner or lunch (or breakfast!) on a mild-May day than soup.

Try it! Next time you need to write a paper or read that challenging book for class, eat some soup first. Your brain will thank you, as will your stomach.