This past month we have been back out in the fields at PVO, and it feels great! We have been in the mud, the rain, and the sun with volunteer groups planting the bush beans that grow in the front of the fields. Children have been coming to the farm to plant the beans, children from right down the road, from Chatham, even from Bergen county, and Pennsylvania. These children have come to plant beans for us. If you came to the farm last summer, you may know which beans I mean. Planted in rows of black plastic, these prolific plants continue growing through the summer and fall. They are the perfect vegetables for the children to plant. These are forgiving seeds. The children tear a hole in the plastic, push in the seed, and cover with half an inch of soil. We teach the children to plant. For most, this is a new experience. The students at the farm need to be continually reminded to cover the seeds with soil, so much so that I started doing a little “cover the seed with soil” chant to remind the children as we work. As I plant the beans with groups of children I see the living mission of America’s Grow a Row. Most of the children who have come out to plant the beans this month are from affluent communities or private schools. They don’t need the produce from our free farm markets, but they do need something else that we have to offer. They need to experience farm work, and they need to help others. The children that come to plant get dirty. Sometimes it rains on us, and we are soaked and muddy when the work is done. Sometimes the sun beats down, and we are hot, sweaty, and thirsty. For an hour or two the children are challenged by physical labor and natural conditions. They work hard. They learn about farming. They may even be uncomfortable. And they do it for someone else. This is one of our mission points, teaching children to volunteer. Children need to learn to serve so that they can grow to be compassionate and giving adults. It is not easy to find hands on and age appropriate service opportunities for children. This is why my family began to volunteer at America’s Grow a Row. For my children, the opportunity to help others is as hard to find as fresh produce in a food desert. So we keep coming back. I love telling these young, bean planting volunteers about the other children who will start arriving at the farm in July to harvest the beans. Just like the volunteers, our guests from the cities need to feel the wind against their skin, the heat of the sun, the wetness of the rain. They need to feel their hands in the dirt. The sensory experiences of the farm are rare for kids in this digital age and important to the developing brain. All of the children who come to America’s Grow a Row need to soak in the sensations of the natural and agricultural world. While this month volunteer children stand in these rows planting, the recipients who will be here to harvest next month are just like them. They are united in their need to experience the natural world, in their need for hard work, and in their need for fresh produce to lead long healthy lives. Today volunteers plant the seeds that will serve children from all over the state. In a month these bush bean plants will be leafy and productive. The long rows will be busy with children learning how to carefully use two hands, one to hold the stem, the other to pull gently on the bean. Those children will learn to leave the flowers and the smaller beans behind for the next group of children. They will know the delicious taste of fresh picked vegetables and the joy of sharing with families and friends when they bring the beans home. These are our miracle beans, planted by children for children, one of the best things at America’s Grow a Row.