Helping Children Fall in Love with Nature

by Robin Buyers, emergence Curator

In imagining a Green Future around the emergence Common Table on April 13, special guest Mark Cullen wrote of what no digital device can bring us–the shapes, sounds, tastes, and smells of the natural world experienced directly, from the vantage point of “a picnic basket under a tree.” Children at the table drew plants and animals; earth and water; sun, rain, and rainbows. Even the youngest among them acknowledged the ecosystems on which we depend and with which we so desperately need to reconnect, on Earth Day made every day.

Green Thumbs baby Alisha Ijenyo shows the attraction to nature innate to all humans at our Cabbagetown Festival event last September.

Thanks to the commitment of all those who attended, donated to, or volunteered, emergence raised $14,000 towards reconnecting children to nature through food, and children to food through nature.

How exactly will these funds be used? In 175 hours of Green Thumbs Kids Growing and 60 hours of Urban Roots Youth programs, reaching 2,000 young people this 2017 growing season. Dozens of Grownups Gardening volunteers like Alisha’s mom, Mercy, will donate their time to ensure that everyone gets their hands dirty.

In accepting our Green Future Award of Distinction for his advocacy for children’s gardens like ours, Mark Cullen congratulated all of us “who encourage children to experience the green world.” He spoke of the need to reduce the impacts of nature deficit disorder, and of the importance of having the “good company” of others, like those in the room, to secure our children’s future.

For those who had spoken to the young artists joining us for the evening, the yearning to heal our relationship with nature could not have been clearer. Saffron Francis spoke of the anxiety she began to feel as a teenager and that ultimately found expression in pen-and-ink illustration. Observing the persistence of the wild even in the city, she noticed that the stress she was experiencing was no different than that of other creatures. Racoons, squirrels, crows began to take shape in her sketchbooks, but reinterpreted to show “the pressures put on the species natural habitat and ours.”

Saffron Francis reimagining the wolf in sheep’s clothing

The work of fellow participant in the Artscape Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship program, Aphiraa Nirmalarajah, also spoke to the damage that humans have done to ecosystems and to themselves, not only locally, but globally. In a series of photos recording the daily lives of Indigenous Kuna children in Panama’s San Blas archipelago, Aphiraa paid tribute to those whose homes are expected to be under water within 20 years, due to climate change.

Aphiraa Nirmalarajah painting outdoors

Yet she was just as keen to talk about the farmers who, she believes, need to be at the forefront of tackling such devastating impacts of global warming. “Many young farmers that fall in love with this art,” she said of the stories of sustainable agriculture documented in her more recent Kalu Yala photos, “have been exposed early to either gardening or farming, which made them fall in love.” Inspired by nature since childhood, her paintings and photographs invited us to believe that, when young people take the lead, a human future in harmony with nature is possible.

Earth play in the winter garden

At Green Thumbs greenhouse programs this March and April, over 150 young people have already begun to fall in love with soil and worms, plants and planting. Once the garden beds at our partner schools warm in the spring sun, many more are sure to join in. Who knows? Maybe some of them will grow up to be farmers.

Or perhaps gardeners like Mark Cullen.

Special thanks to all of the emergence sponsors, especially our presenting sponsors Daniels Corporation and The Good Earth Food & Wine Company.  Without you, and our more than 60 volunteers and collaborators, emergence would not have been possible.

 


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