Turn Turn Turn

Yes, to everything there is a season and the season of the Project Sweet Tomato 2011 program at Nolan Elementary-Middle School has come to an end.  No doubt, you may have read the blog preceding this one where I conveyed my thoughts on the garden at Nolan…the goals and the hoped for outcomes.  Here you can read for yourself, from their lips to your eyes (er, ears) what they got from the program.  I submitted to Ms. Bonnie Odom-Brown, of BE Culturally Exposed, the garden coordinator; Ms. Maura Ryan-Kaiser of Snelling Staffing Services, the sponsor; and last but not least the students that were in the program, a series of questions for them to use as a base to express their feelings about the garden experience. You will hear first from the coordinator Ms. Bonnie Odom-Brown and then the student’s answers.  Due to an unforeseen series of events, Maura was unable to forward her answers to me by deadline.  Therefore, she will be the sole subject of another blog later.

Bonnie’s Story…

Well, let me say that this being the first year for me to have the garden at a school location.  Previously, it was at my mother’s house so there was more to deal with here.  It was more of a struggle because I had to coordinate more things with the school officials.  It would have been nice if we could have had more adult volunteers, primarily because of the garden’s larger size and the number of youths that were involved.  You see, last year the garden club had only twelve members while this year we started with over twenty kids.

You asked me how would I compare this year’s group of kids over last years, and the answer quite simply is that this year’s group was not as dedicated.  It’s a little hard to explain because the kids did work hard, don’t get me wrong, but I had to constantly give them reminder calls to come to the garden, little things like that.  Perhaps it was too large and a smaller group would have responded better.  It may also be due to the fact that there appeared to be a lack of support from home.  I know we have discussed this before, but there really does need to be more support coming from the parents.  I do have what I believe will be the solution to that going forward though.  I am thinking that in order for a child to be in the program his or her parents need to volunteer also.  I want this to be more of a community event and by having the parents out there should make a difference.  I think back to the first day of groundbreaking and we had a number of parents out there then.  It was great!  A lot of energy was expended and it was all positive.  I want to capture that and manage it so that next year’s effort will be just as good throughout the summer.

While I am on that subject, I want to add that at the beginning of the season the kids were very excited.  Maybe what happened was also the result of being on summer break as the kids were pretty excited during the semester.  But as things went on, to be honest, their energy waned quite a bit after school let out.  I was not surprised as much that their energy and interest picked up again when school returned in the fall.

The volunteer support that we did have was fabulous!  I am truly grateful for the support of everyone who did volunteer.  To name just a few, Maura, Arthur, Jenni and Andrea McCaskill were all indispensable.  I was so sorry that Ms. Schwendemann, our teacher was transferred from Nolan.  The Greening of Detroit staff was invaluable in getting us started with Cluster workday, especially Ms. Tee (Tepfirah Rushdan). 

Maura (Snelling Staffing Services) and her group were instrumental in getting the garden planted and watered.  They were out there so many days I lost count.  I also want to thank her for overseeing everything for me during my vacation when I got married.

Arthur’s resourcefulness was also invaluable.  His input and support was above and beyond my expectations and greatly appreciated.  He brought his sister Jenni to the program and she made many contributions also.  Jenni was not afraid to get in there and get her hands dirty and I thought she related well with the kids, especially some of the girls.  But I can’t help expressing especially how thankful I am for his putting Maura and I together to work on this project.  I am sure that he will say it was no big deal. He also went the extra step in getting food donated from Imperial Supermarket (8 Mile Rd & Dequindre) for our summer picnic too.

So what was the most exciting thing or event about the garden this year?  Well for me, it was being able to harvest produce and take it to market for sale and sharing that experience with the kids.  It was great to see them react to selling the vegetables that they had grown.  Another great event was when the fire truck came to the garden the first time to fill our water barrel and to water the garden.  We really needed some help there and they stepped right on up and took care of business!  The most disappointing moments were the hot weather and the lack of rain during July and August.  The weather made it really difficult to be out there on a lot of the days we had scheduled to work and I am sure that it greatly affected our harvest.

All that being said though, I can say that there will definitely be a garden next year and I am excited about the possibilities.  I have met with the new principal, Mr. Bilal Tawwab, and all systems are on go!  We have a good team in place and I know we will be more organized.  I know that some of these students will return and I expect to lose a few to graduation (which is a good thing).  Therefore, I will be recruiting some new students.  But like I said earlier, I do plan on requiring that the parents whose kids are in the program volunteer to work in the garden along with their kids as often as possible for their child to be able to participate.  It just makes for a better experience for everybody and we will be able to get a lot more done.  The goal would be to get them out at the beginning so that they fully understand what is expected of them and their children.

Next season I also plan on asking the Greening of Detroit to provide more hands-on lessons in the garden with the children.  Even with all of the support that I got from the likes of Maura, Arthur and Jenni, it would be great if they could be as visible with our garden as I hear they are with some of the others.

Lastly, I really did get a lot out of this year’s garden.  From support at several levels from unexpected sources to learning more about what the children, our children and perhaps “your” children need nowadays.  I believe that at the base level children of today need someone to listen to them and to give them a chance to do positive things.  I believe that the garden gave them that.  I also hope that the children learned from my dedication that I truly care about them.  Their life journey is just beginning and I would like for them to know that I will be there for them throughout…wherever they go…whatever they do!

For the kids, I asked Bonnie to ask them a few questions.  She was able to reach a few of them by deadline and here’s what she got…

1.     What was it like to grow a garden this year?

 

Jah’nell:  It was fun planting and watering the seeds and picking the vegetables!

 

Isaac:       I liked watering the flowers!

 

Brianna:  I liked finding worms and bugs in the dirt!

 

Delana:   It was fun seeing the plants grow.

 

2.      How would you compare this year’s garden program to any other that you might have been in?

 

Jah’nell:  Last year was more fun because we were all girls and we had snacks.

 

Brianna: The garden was bigger and more work.  We planted more this year.

 

 3.     Did you like the kids you worked with?

 

Jah’nell:  They were cool!

 

Isaac:       Yes, but some of them didn’t work a lot

 

Brianna: Some of them

 

Delana:   Some of them

 

 

  

4.     Did you meet some new kids?  Did you make friends with them?

 

Jah’nell:  No, I knew all of them from school.  I made better friends with some of them.

 

Isaac:      I knew them, but I know them better now.

 

Brianna: I knew them all from school.  I think we are better friends since we worked together.

 

Delana:  I didn’t know any of them.  Some of them were nice to me and some of them weren’t.

  

5.     Will you see them now that the program is over?

 

Jah’nell: Some if they live near me

 

Isaac:     At school, but not at home.

 

Brianna: Maybe

 

Delana:  I don’t know

 

 

6.     How did you like working with the adult volunteers?  Were they helpful?  Were they fun to be around?

 

Jan’nell:  Sometimes they were strict.  They showed us how to do things and we had fun, especially at the picnic.

 

7.     What was the most exciting thing (or event0 about working in the garden?

 

Jah’nell:  Going to the market!

 

Isaac:      Getting paid!

 

Brianna: Getting to plant seeds and vegetables!

 

Delana:  Going to Eastern Market!

 

8.     What was the most disappointing?

 

Jah’nell:   That people stole our watermelon!

 

Isaac:       When people put trash in the water barrel

 

 Brianna: Not being able to go to the market more

 

Delana:  Don’t know.

 

9.     Will you work in the garden next year?  Are you looking forward to it?

 

Jah’nell:  Yes, I want to plant watermelon again.

 

Isaac:       Yes!

 

Brianna: I won’t be at Nolan next year.  I’m going to high school.

 

Delana:  Yes, I want to go to market again.

 

10.     How do your parent(s) feel about your working in the garden?  Do you think you got anything out of it?

 

Jah’nell:  They were happy for me and I helped my grandma and auntie work in their garden,

 

Isaac:       My grandma was glad I was able to make some money and learn how to do hard work.  She really liked when I brought home the green tomatoes.

 

Brianna: They liked that I was excited when I got to go to the garden and to market.

 

Delana:  My mom liked when Ms. Odom helped me so much.  My mom and me made the tomatoes when I brought them home.

Bonnie Concludes…

So I kind of think that based on what I am hearing the garden was a lot of fun for the primary participants.  Sure there were some rough patches, but you have to expect something like that when you put people together that are not necessarily connected in any way.  Coming together for a few hours a week is not the fastest way to get to know somebody.  But, I think we did all right and I think it will be better next year since we are already taking the appropriate steps to improve the program in several ways.

For example…

  • There is a plan to have more volunteers, not just adults but kids too, of the appropriate ages to make the experience more social and enjoyable while maintaining the educational components of the program.
  • A well coordinated and more efficient start to the season so that the program will have a smoother launch, which will make everybody’s effort more effective.
  • More resources, which will make it possible to do more.
  • We will try to engage more people from the community in the immediate area of the garden to get them more involved and protective of the garden.  We need their eyes!

 

There were a few things that definitely caught everyone by surprised in 2011.  With that year under our belt, I am confident that “Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners” will have a great garden in 2012!

Bonnie Odom-Brown

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