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BAJA Cooking on the Edge

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Deb's Writings

Hands On The Waldorf School

Hands-on, Holistic Approach to Gardening and Food

The Waldorf School is located in one of San Diego’s grittier areas. The neighbors keep large dogs, and most houses have bars on their windows. But at the pink-painted school, beds of bright flowers and scented herbs greet visitors and fill the corners of the parking lot and offices. Outside Morning Glory Room, where the preschoolers and parents gather, there’s a luscious smell of cooking applesauce and ripe bananas. Hand-knit objects are everywhere, and one suspects that there are more than the usual numbers of Birkenstocks in the area.

By the school garden, six glossy chickens, one with a magnificent pompadour, strut with the confidence known by only by animals that spend their days at a vegetarian facility.

The educational philosophy of Waldorf schools is based on hands-on learning, and incorporates a holistic approach to gardening and food in its curriculum. There is no cafeteria; Waldorf students cook their own lunch every day in the primary grades, beginning with preschool, and the upper grades bring lunch from home in a wicker basket.

The school garden is more than just a part-time project. It’s the heart of the second and third grade curriculum, which puts the emphasis on practical living, farming and building. The chickens are the wards of this class. The school garden is their responsibility. They will learn to shear wool and card, spin and weave it; they all already know how to knit and crochet. There’s a small model of an adobe house, and the students will make adobe bricks and learn the basic principles of building.

They will spend time at Tierra Miguel, learning how a farm works.

Outside by the their garden, the class is practicing their end-of-year play.

“Mother Earth, Father Sun,” they sing. “Sister Rain, Brother Wind, ” as the dreaming ‘seeds’ on stage pretend to transform themselves into beautiful blossoms. A tall boy unfolds himself, and steps forward. “I,” he proclaims proudly,” am a pussy willow.” His classmates introduce themselves variously as other plants and flowers, then break into a rousing game of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Back in their classroom, teacher Heide Austin leads them through drawing exercises about seeds and the cycle of growth. The room is full of plant and farm references: pine cones, hand-woven baskets, seeds, birds’ nests and a print of The Gleaners. There’s a sense of respect, almost of veneration, of nature.

During these two years, the students each make a garden book and a cookbook while learning about the farm cycle of preparation, planting, growing, weeding and harvesting. Their garden books are large and colorful, decorated with sprawling vines and flowers. In multi-colored writing are carefully drawn garden plans and a long paragraph of earthworm facts and habits.

Other pages demonstrate how to make compost and mix sand and clay to make soil, plus this note: “On December 9th 03 we seeded the bed and on February 5 we harvested butter lettuce, green leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, beet leaves, mustart (sic) leaves and one big white radish.”

There are simple rhymes and more drawings.

Four seeds in a hole /
One for the rook, one for the crow/
And one to rot
And one to grow.

“The chickens ate all our plants,” a student reminisces back in the classroom. “That was before the water went away and everything died. But most everything was harvested.”

“It was fun spraying the bugs,” a boy reminisces.

“Are anybody’s earthworms still alive?” a girl asks.

“Mine are,” says a curly-haired girl. “The ones in my grandma’s garden are still alive.”

Ms Austin asks, “Who remembers how many earthworms it takes to make an acre of earth fertile?” Everyone knows the answer—it takes one million. They are completely comfortable with the concepts of growing and recycling, watering and harvesting, of necessary loss and the cycle of life.
Out at the garden, the chickens have escaped their coop and are pecking at bugs on the ground. A third-grader shows off three heaps of compost, describing how the quality of the compost changes with age. The garden itself is done for the year, but plans are afoot for next season’s planting.

“We’ll have a better garden next year because our compost will be better,” she observes. She sprays a trail of red ants with cayenne spray (the Waldorf garden is, of course, organic). while efficiently herding the chickens out of the garden and back into their coop with one sneakered foot.

A younger child runs to show a freshly laid egg, discovered out on the playground while the hens enjoyed their brief moments of freedom. The egg is translucent and still warm. She cradles it gently in both hands, beaming.


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