By Josh Hodge, La Semilla Food Center FoodCorps Service Member
When my social studies teaching position ended last may I was clueless at where I would be working next. Needless to say I was depressed. It wasn’t the prospect on a new job hunt that had me down; it was the fact that I wouldn’t see the project the students and I had undertaken to build a productive garden and greenhouse at the school.
Months prior to my termination a student had found photos of my garden on social media, and this had led to them asking me a very simple question: can we do something like this at school? I didn’t know how to respond at first, but I said if we have space and materials I will do my best. I set out on my own to find a site (the school already had one sort of set up, albeit without any beds for the plants), find materials (mostly pallet wood and beds I took apart from my own garden), tools (my own) and seeds (graciously donated by the Cooperative Extension of Bernalillo County). Very quickly I had a good number of students forming the Garden and Agriculture Club, or Farming Party.
Every Wednesday was something I looked forward to more than anything I did during my regular work week. The students I saw in class I didn’t hear a word from, now expressed their excitement for the garden, the projects and would ask questions nonstop. One student expressed desires to learn how to turn their backyard into something that can supplement their family’s groceries. Another wanted to get back into community service through gardening, something they had been very involved in before they had to move hours away to ABQ. And another expressed a desire for a place not made entirely of concrete and grey to get away from the crowded hallways, a place of sights, smells and tranquility to unwind and cool down. I was continually amazed at how each student wanted the space to be something they could put their own touch on, some wanted to spray paint the beds, others wanted to try and sell produce/transplants to other schools.
Once the planting season began and we received our donated soil (thanks Maintenance and Operations!) we planted radishes, swiss chard, beets, turnips, carrots, cilantro, sunchokes etc. Once we filled the boxes we built (12 of them!), I turned to a community farm nearby where I was able to get 2 one hundred foot rows donated for our use. Everything was looking good for the upcoming spring!
This is where I feel I let the students down. I was tasked with working with the other teachers who had been working in the garden prior to us building all the beds and planting the plants. Our club would meet and plants would be pulled, or planted over. The greenhouse would sit in a decrepit state, while money was spent on benches and wine barrels containers. Our proposal for timed irrigation would be shot down on the grounds that it robbed their students of credit worthy work. The community farm may have been 15 minutes away, but between sports and testing students were unable to find time outside of school to work. It sat tilled and fallow. My own workload became too much for me to stay at school for very long and I found myself not getting out taking care of the garden. I was unable to work with others towards a common goal, and I did not understand the students other obligations inside and outside of school and I drove everyone away.
When my time at the school ended the garden was dry and burnt. I left back to Las Cruces, feeling defeated. Imagining the space the students and I had built being left to rot unused. In my self-loathing I chanced upon someone I knew who saw photos of the school garden, and explained their organization’s work with school gardens. That was how I got my interview with La Semilla, and my service with FoodCorps began. I have since realized the main component that I was missing was allies and like minded people who have dedicated themselves to this service. A month into my service I was sent a photo of some seedlings by a former student, and another who was asking about what they should be planting in the school garden. Seeds sometimes don’t sprout when we expect them to, or we may have forgotten that they were planted. With this I realized that I had found something I want to do with my life as an educator.
Josh lives in southern NM and is serving with La Semilla Food Center in Anthony, NM. Josh is an avid gardener and loves the challenge of growing his own food in the desert. Before FoodCorps, Josh was working as a U.S history teacher in Albuquerque, and there he was able to secure funding for a garden and get a Garden and Agriculture Club started at a school of 2400 students.