Today, we invited Laurie Burhoe to discuss her work in food education and sustainable gardening. Laurie has lived in Maine for 45 years. She is an artist specializing in wildlife and landscapes. She was a public school teacher and is a master gardener and master naturalist in the state of Maine. She volunteers as a member of Good Food for Bath, a coalition of 30+ organizations that serve the food insecure.
What Does An Average Day Look Like For You?
I’m called a Garden Coordinator for a local conservation land trust. As part of their mission, they conserve farmland. I am part of the education garden, so my job with them is seasonal and varies. My days look very different between May and October.
For a typical day in May, we have a lot of Spring field trips. The days involve arriving at the garden and setting up for perhaps about four to five groups coming back to back to the garden for an activity. I would get there early and prepare tools and all the things I would need, and the kids would arrive by bus. They could be planting seedlings that they brought with them, or direct seeding a bed, or, if it was a fall field trip, maybe closing up a bed or cleaning up a bed. If there is enough free time, the garden becomes a playground.
What I try to incorporate into each field trip is a lot of questions to them about what they know and what they’re gonna learn. In the garden you’re trying to impart some kind of knowledge to them about what they’re doing and what they’re looking at. I would expect the kids to learn a multitude of things, not only about themselves, but about the plant world in their community.
What Kind of Things Do Kids Learn In This Program?
The younger kids love to dig, so the more you can let them actually be in the dirt, the better. They do like to use the shovels and the tools. One of the goals is by the time they leave the garden, they understand that they don’t need to be afraid of insects and that the insects have a really important function.
We often see spiders with egg sacs, because they’re in the dirt, and we disturb them when we’re digging. We talk about roots a lot because when they bring the plants that they’ve grown in the classroom, we have to pull them out of the pot. We talk about what the root’s function is, and we talk about why the leaves are green. If they’re old enough, it’s an introduction to photosynthesis.
What Is One Major Issue You See In The Environment?
I go back to soil health, which we are damaging daily with the agricultural practices we have in this country. We are killing our soil, so it makes it difficult to grow. When you have bad soil, you need to amend it to get it healthy again. The least expensive choice is fertilizers and pesticides, and then that just furthers the problem.
You degrade and degrade and degrade the soil, and people are starting to sort of wake up to better practices. But the other thing that happens in the soil is it’s a carbon sink, just like trees are. We produce too much carbon, and what the planet is missing is places for that carbon to go and be productive. If we don’t have healthy soil, the carbon can’t pass through it and regenerate.
For planet health, that would involve soil and not killing off weeds and insects. Everything works in conjunction, and the soil can’t be healthy without insects and weeds. The weeds turn in and compost in the soil, insects aerate the soil and leave behind excrement and die in the soil. They also attract pollinators and other insects, and then some mammals eat the insects. So you need to have all of those things working together to keep the soil healthy.
Even organic can be problematic if you’re growing the same product over and over again – you have to leave the soil to rest sometimes. People are starting to figure that out. It’s better now than it was, but soil health is still a big problem. I think it’s a hard problem to solve; it’s easy to solve in your backyard, but it’s a hard problem to solve for an entire continent. We had all this great soil in the plains of our country that just got wrecked, and it takes millions of years to build that top foot of soil.
We invite you to visit Good Food for Bath: https://www.kennebecestuary.org/good-food-for-bath
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