Heaven on a Cob
When the buses pull in for our Growing Healthy Kids℠ Farm Days we never know what to expect. Even when we know how many children are coming and how old they will be, we are often surprised by a different number of children and a different age group. The only thing we know for sure is that the children who are coming to join us are coming from communities where food insecurity rates are very high, and farm fresh produce is not readily available. We know that they don’t have the opportunity to play outside in a meadow very often. We know that they deserve these good things, which are vital to their healthy growth and development.
But if we really don’t know what to expect, this is doubly true for the children. This Thursday’s group is a wonderful example of that. These 8 and 9 year-old children from Jersey City arrived with bathing suits, some on under their clothes, some in backpacks. I was introducing myself to the teachers from the Boys and Girls Club and learning their names, when a child interrupted me by happily chirping, “I have my bathing suit. There’s a pool here?” In the first few minutes, I heard variations of this from many of the children. “I have my bathing suit on under my clothes,” was proudly announced by one of girls. Another asked “I have my bathing suit in my bag. I can change in the bathroom?” The best I could offer? “We can play water games.” This was met by a blank stare. Water games?
During the introduction we always explain our day to the children. Welcome to the farm. Today we will be picking corn and green beans. Yay! But instead of swimming? “We have to work? I am not going out there to do that,” one child exclaimed.
Clearly, we had our work cut out for us. We gathered the children and headed off for our farm tour. This is how we educate the children about agriculture; we stop to ask and answer questions at each field on the way to harvest. The big question, the one it takes a long time for the children to discover the answer to? What part of the plant are we eating when we eat… a cantaloupe, a pepper, or an apple? The answers? The stem! The root! The pepper! But by the time we are done walking and talking, someone has figured it out. It is the fruit of the plant! Fruits have seeds in them. The next challenge? When we eat cabbage, what part of the plant are we eating? The answers? The fruit! The stem! No, the …. leaves! Now they have it.
By the time we arrive at the corn, these children are feeling confident. They know what a berm is and have enjoyed the view from up there. They know what a fruit is and when they are eating one. They have seen and understood drip lines. They are practically farmers and scientists. Now, we have them. We reel them in … with corn! These children who did not want to “go out there and work” love picking the corn. What do they say when they pick it and eat it? “Heaven on a cob!” one boy, a reluctant harvester and consumer of corn announced. “Heaven on a cob!”
We do play water games. Drip, Drip, Drench is a variation of Duck, Duck, Goose with a sponge and bucket of water. It never gets old, and it never fails. The children with bathing suits on are happy. The boys take off their shirts. It is a hot day, and we all get soaked. The staff and volunteers are favorite targets. The children love to soak us, and we are thankful.
Now, onto the green beans. We look under the leaves. It is a treasure hunt. The children fill their bags with beans, and say, “My mom is going to cook these beans for dinner!” When the bus pulls in, honking, to bring the children back to Jersey City, these same children who did not want to harvest do not want to leave. “Can we pick more beans?” On the way to the bus the teacher embraced me, “This is the best trip we have had all summer.”