Sunday, July 31, 2011

Community Partners in Learning: Grow it Green

Entrance to the Urban Farm at Lafayette

In earlier post, I wrote about the concept of learning walks:

...learning walks are rhizomatic.  They are inherently about being in the middle of things and coming to learn what could not been predetermined. Learning walks are part of the "curriculum" for instructional seminar (which I described here).
In explaining the learning desired via instructional seminar, I wrote:

One of the outcomes sought via instructional seminar from an institutional point of view, is that students will deepen their capacities to read, write, and problem solve. Initially, invited students to seminar have been "identified" by teachers and based on former course and state test performances.  I think of this year as a bridge year: a way to span the great difference between the factory model of lab classes and a more rhizomatic understanding of learning.  As the practice embodied in seminar becomes better established, any student could opt in and out of seminar.  Seminar is not an assigned course as no credit is earned, but rather an academic service. One might think of academic seminar as a learning center.

What is different though about instructional seminar is that tacit knowledge is critical, not ancillary. And so one might ask, how would walking about help a student to read, write, or problem solve better?  These cognitive processes are deeply influenced by our tacit knowledge.  For example, I can engage in complex reading, writing, and problem solving based on the narrative my reading of the images I made on the learning walk suggests. The walk may well anchor future expressions and inquiries.  Instead of beginning with explicit knowledge, learning walks allow for embodied learning. This difference is critical and may well be difficult for many to understand. Learning is not determined but encountered within the experiences and as such is rhizomatic.
Farmer Shaun

A few days ago I was visiting Farmer Shaun at the Urban Farm at Lafayette in Morristown, NJ. The Urban Farm is one of two community gardens developed by Grow it Green Morristown. The agricultural teaching farm is located on land owned by the Morris School District. The garden is located about 75 feet from where I park my car most days.  

Urban Farm is described as follows on the Grow it Green website:

Working on land owned by the Morris School District, the garden showcases the transformation of an underutilized former school yard, into a living classroom for the estimated 4,700 children of the Morris School District, as well as our local community.  Additionally, the produce from the garden will be donated to the District and to area food banks. 

The teaching garden is located at the Lafayette Learning Center on Hazel Street, in one of Morristown’s most diverse neighborhoods.  When we envisioned this project,  we had a strong commitment to securing this specific site,  believing that this garden will be so much more than just a place where plants grow.  It will be a place where community grows.  It is our hope that through creating a place of beauty and learning in the heart of this community that people from across the County will come together - people who might otherwise never had the opportunity to meet one another - to share in the experience learning the art and science of growing food.
So the other day while I was at the farm talking with Shaun, I wondered about this site being one of our community partners for Instructional Seminar. I was thinking that this garden might become a destination by some high school students during learning walks.  I discussed the idea with Shaun who was incredibly positive and added that so much could be learned about design in addition to science, mathematics, and history.

Standing among the asparagus, corn, flowers, basil, beets, carrots, sunflowers, okra, kale, and radishes (to name but some)--it seemed to me that the garden is a compelling learning space just waiting for high school students to populate it.  I imagine it as an aesthetic place every bit as much as it is a farm. Paolo Freire wrote:
It is the same for us--whether we are Latin American school-children, students in Asia or university teachers in Europe or America: friend, please never lose your capacity for wonder and astonishment in the world which you regard and in which you live.

Next September when learning walks begin at the high school, I am hopeful that the Urban Farms will become a location students want to visit and dwell.


  1. Speaking of rhizomes and community spaces... thought you might find this interesting...

    Living & Learning

  2. We'd love to see high school students there!

  3. Thought the artist teaching English in a public space is an interesting idea. Was surprised by the harsh comment also offered up.

    Sam, we will be there. Thanks:)

  4. Mary Ann-

    I love, love, love this idea. When Lindsay and I taught our Progressive Era/Fast Food Nation unit last year, I was obsessed with some how connecting to the town farms. I'll have to head over there at some point in the beginning of school to see what kind of possibilities there are. A farm to school program would be incredible!

  5. @Katy,

    hope you will take a wall there with your students:)