Thanks to phrases like “nature deficit disorder”, coined by Richard Louv, people are sharing more information about the human need to be connected to green growing things. Study after study confirms the emotional value of green spaces, and it seems to be due to various factors. Some factors are difficult to quantify, such as the presence of fresh air and the feeling of being in nature as opposed to being surrounded by concrete. Peaceful and spiritual feelings often arise. When things are tough at home, children often act out at school, and the school garden is a place of respite. (We absolutely discourage its use for disciplinary purposes – adults who were punished as children by being sent to the garden to weed are none too interested in gardening.) It seems likely that humans are essentially hard-wired to feel better in nature, and need to have plants close to us.
The garden is also a place where individual participation can make a difference, and one can see the results of one’s actions. It’s a place where young people can be producers as well as consumers. Sometimes children in our programs save their garden harvests to bring home. Providing their families with a fresh bag of greens or other fresh veggies can be empowering.
Even more than any one individual’s contributions, the chance to be part of a shared effort at transforming a piece of the urban landscape into a green and productive space is a rewarding experience. The cooperation that’s fostered in a community space like the school garden is more collaborative than some team sports, and as such, often reaches kids who are feeling left behind in the competitive sports milieu. Participating in the school garden is not only collaborative but requires empathy: for fellow kids and all of the garden creatures.
Observing and nurturing plants is deceptively simple – actually there are many complex factors at work in determining the health of a plant, or a human for that matter. In a world of video games, there’s enormous learning value in the unpredictability of the garden. You plant a seed and you don’t know what the outcome will be. Something does really well that did not do well last year. But if things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always next year – the endlessly hopeful gardener’s mantra.