Growing Awareness in the Youth Garden

Kaitlyn here, a Youth Garden intern for the summer of 2016. I’m originally from Santa Barbara but I am super stoked to have heard about Veggielution as a student at Santa Clara University nearby.

During my time working in the garden, I sometimes feel halfway between an adult and a kid again, especially when I realized it’s been awhile since I’ve been truly entranced by nature. Not just appreciative of, as a Youth Garden intern, and not just defensive of, as an Environmental Studies major, but really taken in by a natural phenomenon. And I realize this because I see kids mesmerized by the garden every Saturday.

For instance, one weekend, two younger boys of about 2 or 3, both wearing orange shirts, became fascinated with a ladybug by one of the raised beds. Their mother and her friend kept trying to redirect their attention, and get them to pull a carrot from the bed, but their eyes kept returning to the ladybug. And they wouldn’t be distracted until the ladybug was safely held by their mother, and they were reassured it would be there when they were done.Only then could they be excited about the baby carrots.

Or more recently, with an older group of 12 year-olds, a 7 year-old (McKenzie) and a 10 year-old (Seymour): we’re standing in the shade, and I’m just about to explain to the group how to find a ripe peach on our over-laden tree, when McKenzie shouts out that there’s a wasp nest on the overhead trellis. We look up, and just above us are 3 or 4 wasps buzzing around their hexagonal hole-filled home. “Look, there’s another one!” A second girl shouts, pointing to a nest just a foot and half away from the first. “And another one!” calls McKenzie, spotting a third. Soon, McKenzie, Seymour, and the group of 12 year olds were pointing out multiple wasp nests on the gazebo under which we stood, much to my fascination and slight horror. “I counted 5!” One kid would call out, followed by another: “Nuh-uh. There’s definitely 8.”

As we watched, temporarily transfixed by the repetitive-stinging machines zipping in and out of the trellis overhang, I realized I had been working in the Youth Garden over a month and had never seen the nests before. True, I wasn’t in everyday, and true, I had no idea how long the nests had been there, but I doubt more than half a dozen wasps nests appeared overnight. My coworkers had not seen the nests either, and we discussed how engaged the group had been in the discovery. I thought of the little boys and their ladybug, and how they could not focus on their carrot-pulling tasks until the small red bug was secure. In both instances, I was impressed, but not surprised, by the kids’ awareness.

Because as adults, these experiences have become less remarkable. We don’t remember our first ladybug. We don’t remember the first time we found a wasp nest. These experiences no longer mark anything new or significant, to the extent that we are not even fully aware of them happening in front of us. But for kids, performing these activities and having these experiences for the first time…that is magic. It is distracting and hypnotizing, and captivating in the best way. I am grateful that the Youth Garden provides a space for such new experiences to occur, but equally grateful that its young visitors remind us just how exciting these discoveries can be.

Written by Kaitlyn Kuehn, Veggielution Education Intern