A Radish Grows in Cambridge
Green space is actually not so uncommon in Cambridge, Massachusetts; we have public parks, community gardens, even some teaching gardens in the public schools. But for some children, particularly those from low income and often single parent families, time spent growing food is an uncommon priviledge.
The Cambridge Community Center youth programs serve mainly poor Black and Hispanic kids, and the CCC Green Program aims to offer these kids the time and space they need to really get growing. And while growing food and working in the garden is the main activity, during that time they also learn and grow as individuals. They learn about the environment and about food production but they also learn to work as a team, to be patient, to be kind to others and kind to nature. And they also learn that getting your hand dirty (another thing foreign to many of these inner city kids) is a good thing, and FUN!
Maryam is one of those kids and she jumped right in. She is seven years old, comes from a large family that lives in low-income housing, and she loves to learn and to be helpful. Being helpful is probably her favorite thing. She has three older brothers in the Cambridge Community Center youth programs, each of whom has worked some in the gardens, but she is the one who became really devoted to it.
The CCC Green Program meets once a week during after school, and so every Wednesday whenever I saw her she'd ask, "What are we doing in gardening today?! What are we doing in gardening today?!" Over the fall we harvested plants we had begun growing over the summer: tomatoes, carrots, beets. At the end of the season we planted garlic and greens and later threw down winter rye as a cover crop in our raised beds. Over the winter we did cooking, science, and art activities related to gardening then we started some seeds and waited for spring to arrive (which felt like forever in this New England weather!)
All of the students in the Green Program were so proud of their seedlings and anxious to get them in the ground, and Maryam was exactly the same. As the plants grew the kids would always ask "Can we eat this yet?!" even if it was only a sprout of a tomato plant. Enter the radish...
Radishes are great to plant with kids because they mature so quickly, in less than a month. We had a lot of seeds so each child planted 5 or 6. When the kids had free time outside they would often play on the playground, but right adjacent to the playground are the garden beds and I would come out as Maryam asked and we would check on the radishes together. Now, we were growing other crops atr this time as well; the garlic was maturing, we planted many sunflowers and other vegetables, but nothing was as interesting to her as those rdishes, slowing growing and poking their red tops bigger and bigger and further out of the soil.
Even though radishes to mature rapidly, it still does require a lot of patience for a child- not easy. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, the harvest was a great excitement. All of the children were excited to try what they had grown, but Maryam was also so excited to be able to help harvest, distribute, and wash the radishes. She carefully patted the soil back down where the radishes had been pulled, and held them delicately on the way to the kitchen sink where the ran water over them so gently it seemed she thought they could feel it.
Finally washed and dried, the other children were muching on theirs and excaliming "Ah! Spicy!" and "Ew! I do NOT like this!" and "Yum, then give me yours then!" And finally Maryam popped hers into her mouth, crunched down, and her eyes popped. It seemed like everything thing we'd done in the Green Program up to that point had been leading to that one bite. And she thought it was amazing.
We are planting radishes again this summer, and waiting for new crops. What Maryam is waiting on patiently right now is our "greenberries" (unripe blueberries. I was tell every time she's near them that she wants to just eat them all right away, but she knows to be patient now, to be gentle, to be helpful and caring and kind, and then... yum!
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