By Emily Landseidel, AmeriCorps Farm to School Coordinator, Greenbrier County, WV
This is one of my offices:
It is a greenhouse, attached to a school, in the Wild and Wonderful, West Virginia.
The conditions: It’s a little wet (which is concerning, especially when plugging in my laptop), impossible to keep clean, fluctuates in temperature from 60F to 85F (regardless of the thin windows and outdoor temperature), and the soil, the soil is pervasive. But it’s wonderful because it’s exactly what it should be and what it needs to be.
As a result, with the floors constantly wet, and the messy floors, I wear sandals; typically with a pair of jeans (rolled up because wearing real shoes is a recipe for a day with wet feet and pants, and that just makes me crabby). When my colleagues aren’t too familiar with what I do or the conditions of my office, I feel underdressed and a bit sloppy but then, to my students and my colleagues who I work with on a daily basis, my attire tells a different story.
And the story is great: The greenhouse is my office but then, it doubles as a classroom and triples as a fantastic environment for growing. I am currently working in this office with a few different classes of middle school students. I provide enriched learning opportunities for each student who enters the greenhouse. As I make stronger connections with teachers, I anticipate being able to work hand-in-hand with teachers to give them an alternative to teaching their State Content Standards and Objectives in their traditional classrooms.
My second office is also a greenhouse; it’s nearly a half-hour drive from the first. Here, students planted in early November; a lovely group of 7th and 8th grade boys. Their teacher was away the day they planted but the next week, she was back. They could not wait to show her what they’d planted; to tell her all about what they did the week before and to help me engineer an efficient and effective watering system. (An enriched learning experience.) Together, we walked down the hall to the greenhouse. Most of the way I worried; had I been there to water enough? Was the greenhouse warm enough through nights to keep the soil temperature between 60-70F, so the seeds could germinate?
While the students walked, filled with anticipation, I worried my way all the way to the greenhouse.
When we opened the door, I realized I had wasted my time; the boys quickly discovered that we had sprouts! After seven days, and right on time, the spinach and basil had germinated and further, pushed their way through the thin layer of soil placed over them during planting. It was simple and natural really: nutrients, water, and warm soil and those seeds just popped up and out of the soil. By the end of the day, more shoots appeared. My worries and fears resolved.
If someone had told me, a year ago that this is where I’d be: walking down the hallway of a school in West Virginia, worrying about whether or not seeds had sprouted, and working in a greenhouse, teaching kids about gardening and food, and advocating for local food in school cafeterias; I would have laughed. It would have been an entertaining story. Last year, I was living in Boston, taking medical leave from working at a bakery and café after a horrific accident. Presently, more or less, I’ve recovered. And beyond that, I am pursuing my professional dream. So funny, this would have seemed comical a year ago but now, now it just makes me smile.
(Smile, despite the reoccurring worries of watering schedules over school breaks, constant concerns over the greenhouse failing, and trying to figure out how I can get more students out of the traditional classroom and into the greenhouse… and that’s just the beginning.)