Special place inspires poetry, healthy eating
By Casey Hans
The garden’s a delight for students as well as teachers at Tappan Middle School. Easily accessible, the Tappan Agrarian Garden often serves as a tool for teaching and has spawned an active after-school club for students.
The garden is a partnership with the nonprofit Agrarian Adventure and other members of the community who have an interest in organic and community gardening.
Elissa Trumbull of the Agrarian Adventure and a volunteer at the Tappan Agrarian Garden helps run the after-school Food and Garden Club that meets once each week. On this day early in the school year, the group was learning to slice tomatoes and peel and cut up garlic and cilantro for homemade salsa.
“Hopefully, you’ll have someone at your table who has been here before,” Trumbull said during the club’s first session. “We all are showing responsibility while we cook.”
“Heirlooms” are student leaders of this group, who are responsible for knowing and teaching others about bus safety, attendance, kitchen garden journals and knife safety – the item of most importance during this club meeting. A number of students were “heirlooms” on this day, helping others get involved with the club.
Kathy Coppens, a Tappan science teacher is the staff adviser for the club. She said interest in the garden continues to grow.
“We’re getting more popular,” said Coppens. “We’re trying to make as many connections as we can. I love that kids learn that we eat what we grow.”
Although the Tappan Food and Garden Club is popular, drawing some 30 students after school, the garden is used during the school day, as well.
Coppens said many teachers use the garden for lessons including Life Sciences teachers who use the greenhouse and foreign language teachers who help students study the Latin names for herbs and other plants.
They appreciate having the garden so close at hand, with many, like Wendy Raymond, using it as a regular learning tool.
Raymond brings her sixth-grade Language Arts class out to the garden for inspiration. “What does the fence remind you of?” she asks during a recent visit. “Be using your imagination. There are all different colors and textures around so pay attention to everything.
“A lot of you were amazed by that spider. Someone has a feeling of being attacked by sunflowers – write that down.”
Students were journaling their sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and feelings as part of the visit. Between journal entries, they also took part in helping in the garden by cleaning sunflower seeds and planting and watering lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse.
Student Sam Millman explained that it’s not just a visit, but that the class will have to produce work. “We’re doing it so we can write a poem,” he said. “My favorite thing in the garden was the mint. I love mint gum.”
Student Gabe Kleer was prepared to write his poem as the class finished its visit. “I like the gardens – I like all of this,” he said. “It smells good.”
Raymond has been bringing students out to the garden for years. “Since we’ve started the garden, it’s gotten a lot bigger,” she said. When the garden was started some seven years ago, students helped to construct the garden as well as the greenhouse on site, which serves as a “winter garden” that can be used in colder months by teachers and the community.
This fall, Raymond said, a Spanish class picked cilantro and basil and Elaine Richmond’s eighth-grade social studies class makes squash soup as part of American History studies.
“Everyone finds a way to use it,” she added. “It’s great for the sixth-graders because they don’t even know (the garden) is here.”
Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her call 734-994-2090.
View some of Raymond’s students’ art and poetry inspired by the Tappan garden here:
The Agrarian Adventure is a grassroots nonprofit group growing up from within Tappan Middle School where there is a community garden and greenhouse. The group works with students in grades K-12 by teaching about sustainable food and agriculture. Community members are sought to help in the garden and the classroom. To check out available opportunities visit online or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.For general information about The Agrarian Adventure, e-mail email@example.com or call 734-926-5535.