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?



Today, PrattleNog features a guest post from Lorrie Ranck. Lorrie and I have been colleagues and friends since 1996, when we both started teaching at a college in the Bay Area that provided each of us several “bumps” in our professional road.  Those bumps were likely responsible, in part, for the formation of our close and enduring friendship, so although some of them were pretty jarring, I am grateful that they occurred.

Today, Lorrie writes about other kinds of bumps. Enjoy!


Recently, at a job interview, I was asked a question about how I, as a senior member of the leadership team, would handle the challenges of the recent restructure of the academic division. Or, put more informally by a faculty member on the committee,  “you know, the bumps in the road.”  While I had anticipated this question, the “bumps in the road” comment triggered a recent experience and a way to illustrate my approach.

One of the things I really enjoy is bicycling with my son:  when he was younger and smaller, he has a nifty seat right up front and we could easily talk with one another during the ride.  The thing is, every bicycle outing is an adventure: new roads, different smells, all kinds of vehicles and people to observe. The world is a dynamic and ever-changing place and he seems to soak it all in. Inevitably, we hit a few bumps along the way.  Most times, unless it is significant, I hardly notice since I am looking out for traffic. What I love, though, is his reaction: he giggles, says “bump!” and sometimes, depending on the size, his eyes widen and he shouts, “yahoo!” Then we laugh together or talk about the different kinds of things that make for bumps: small rocks, potholes, speed bumps, etc.

Thanks to team_tiara for making this image on Wikimedia

To translate this into more practical use for educational leadership, I focused on three areas:

  1. Be attentive. The bumps may not be something you experience directly, they do, though, matter to the individual who brings it forward.
  2. Our response to these “bumps” says a lot about how we interact with the world; it reflects everything from our years of life experience to our disposition to our emotional and physical state at that particular moment and more. I would bet that the older and wiser we become the more critical we are of bumps, challenges and obstacles. We do not like them. In fact, we often do all we can avoid them. Are you the type of person who drives to the side of the speed bump? Perhaps, you are the one who slows down and takes it straight on. Maybe you are one of those folks who don’t even see the bump and just flattened your tire which presents a whole other set of challenges. Just about any way you look at it, over time, we become skeptics and reticent to change because we have seen or experienced it before. So, while every bump is not a  “yahoo!” what would it be like if our first reaction was less critical and more productive? Less avoidance and more slow and deliberate? More proactive, less reactionary?
  3. Follow up. How do we talk with one another about the challenges? In what ways do we give voice to being uncomfortable or our uncertainty about a bump in the road? Is there opportunity for preflection and reflection? What voices are at the table when talking about the bumps in the road?

Just a few questions to ponder during your next bike adventure or institutional change.