Chirp. We stopped what we were doing and gathered around a patch of mint, our eyes searching and our ears centered on the noise. Chirp. We leaned in closer. CHIRP. We had the bug box an inch above the sound source. CLICK – the cricket was in the jar. After a cheer of celebration for our teamwork, we observed the leg motions, wondered exactly what she was saying and tried to talk to her in cricket language, and then joyfully released her into our patch of urban wild garden jungle.
This moment of focused attention, and many others like it, was fostered through time at Baird Community Garden on Pine Street. I was spending this time with children who live in the South Meadows affordable housing community in the South End of Burlington through BPRW’s Recreation and Nutrition Program. Throughout the summer, staff provide meals and activities for anyone 18 and under at five sites throughout the city. This summer almost 8,000 meals have been served.
A generous gardener at Baird Community Garden allowed the Recreation and Nutrition Program to use their plot this summer as a place to explore and learn about nature. Just a few minutes’ walk from South Meadows, the garden became a magic place for us. Equipped with magnifying glasses and watering cans, we spent time open to the possibilities of the garden’s wonders. Again and again, the garden provided opportunities for focus through the senses– honing in on the sound of a fresh cucumber crunch, savoring the citric taste of yellow wood sorrel, smelling deeply into a garlic flower, feeling through the soil to make a seed hole, or watching the eggs of a spider change over time.
This attentive way of being in the present, along with an increase in self-understanding and ability to work in groups, a greater enthusiasm for healthy foods, and a positive impact on mental health and well-being are all researched benefits of gardening with children. Our daily experience showed that this is true. Beyond cultivating the garden, we were also cultivating empathy, curiosity, mindfulness, and care towards the world.
By Ellen Gawarkiewicz