To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.Audrey Hepburn
Last fall when I attended the Becker Green Classroom orientation, I was planning to spend an hour each week outside with my daughter’s pre-K class – but only in a vague sense. It sounded lovely and interesting to garden with her and her friends, and I was lucky enough to have the time for it. So one September Saturday I arrived at the Green Classroom’s little old house on the corner of Milton and Briar Street, which was packed with parents and other volunteers – likely you were there too.
We clustered around the coffee and pastries, introducing ourselves and catching up, or standing apart, watching and wondering what to expect. The meeting lasted a couple of hours and covered a lot of ground; we were introduced to one another, to the board who leads the Green Classroom, and to our duties for the year ahead. We were now teachers, guides, and the custodians of the garden. We are still.
The school year was to be a big one, culminating in a May gala to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the garden’s founding. In the meantime we were awaiting a compost delivery, and hoping the heat would abate so that the growing season might begin – work for us and an opportunity for our students to learn about and plan for the fall harvest. Each class was assigned a garden bed, and anywhere between one and several volunteer leaders who would plan lessons. The house was loaded with markers and scissors, cooking utensils and blenders. The sheds were full of seeds, shovels, trowels, and trellises. We could eat or cook with anything we grew, or deliver it to the cafeteria. We were promised our students would love kale chips by the end of the year if they didn’t already. We were supported by a centralized network, but the work was almost entirely up to us.
As the school year progressed the four year old kids in my daughter’s pre-K really did like kale chips, as well as digging, listening for birds, and separating trash, recycling, and compost. But it was the space, the stuff, and the feeling of the garden that they loved most. This, it turns out, is the thread that draws all thirty year close, as the garden has grown and changed, as Becker has grown and changed, as Austin has grown and changed. And this is what the garden’s founder Carla Marshall predicted from the beginning. This is how she explained it in the Texas Legacy Project, when she was interviewed in 2015:
Texas Legacy Project: Say you’re trying to pass on a message to the next generation. I mean you do this every day in… class. But… what if it was sort of a—the time capsule where you didn’t have a day, much less seven years. But you really wanted to distill—what would it be? What would you try to tell them about what’s important to you, and what you think should matter to the next generation, particularly about protecting this continuity between generation and (?) protecting the earth?
Carla Marshall: To me, it comes down to planting the seed. That whole idea of putting a seed in the ground and having it turn into something. The first year I was here, we did all this—we had clowns, we had all this stuff going on. And then I surveyed the pre-K kids. And, you know, children will—at that age will often tell you the last thing that happened. Whatever it was, that was their favorite thing, because that’s what they remember. Ninety percent of the pre-K children, when I asked them of all the things we did this year, what was your favorite thing, planting the seed in the ground and having it turn into something. It’s powerful. I mean they don’t have—they don’t have that power any other way. They—they can’t make anything. They can’t create anything at that age. The magic to them of putting the seed in the ground and having something come up is truly magic to them. Really, really touches them in a deep place. So for me, that’s—I would say planting the seed is—is the key. Touching the earth. Being near it. Understanding what it does. I don’t know if that answered your question (?).
As the garden’s thirty-first year gets underway, odd as it promises to be, we volunteers mostly can’t imagine gathering together inside a small building, no matter how much we’d like to. The Becker Green Classroom board president and vice president have kept the garden in bloom and fruit all through the summer, and continue to sell its fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers at a regular produce stand on Milton Street. But the rest of us – and the Becker kids for whom the garden exists – are still mostly required to stay outside the fence. When, I wonder, will we return? What will that future look like?
As a reminder of what is past and a suggestion of what we can look forward to, every couple of weeks this fall we’ll be exploring the Green Classroom’s history and its legacy. We’ll also share interviews with foundational figures like Carla Marshall, without whom we wouldn’t be here today. Stay tuned!