Story last updated at 8/5/2009 - 12:30 pm
The seeds of self-reliance have been planted by a group of middle-schoolers in the form of a Mendenhall Valley vegetable garden.
Last spring, gardener Gretchen Bishop jump-started a garden for the Juneau School District's Montessori Borealis Adolescent Program by donating vegetable starts, seeds and peat moss as well as her expertise. Under Bishop's guidance, the students prepared and enriched the soil and planted beans, potatoes, lettuce and other vegetables in anticipation of a fall 2009 harvest which they will sell at the August 29 Juneau Farmers Market. In addition to the organically grown produce, the students' booth at the market will feature jellies, jams, preserves from rhubarb, as well as pies from rhubarb, blueberries and other local berries. They also will sell bags, sweatshirts, and patches with the "Alaska Grown" logo.
Teacher Dayna Weiler says that the garden and the products are integral to the school's "Part of the Land" curriculum.
"Through the garden, the students learn about their connection to the land," Weiler says. "And by running their own small business they learn about the connection between the land and the local economy."
"Hands-on experience" is central to how children learn, according to the late Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), Italy's first female doctor and innovator of the Montessori educational philosophy. "Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experience in the environment. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence," according to Montessori.
The skills the Juneau students will learn through this experience will serve them throughout their lives. Not only will they learn about gardening (and the particulars of gardening in a rainforest) they'll also learn such skills as customer service, marketing, managing inventory, and balancing a till.
The students participated in the Farmers Market in its inaugural year, and this year, Weiler says the students may also feature some new food products. As she describes it, one sounds like an Alaskan twist on the Raisinette: "We're thinking dried blueberries covered in chocolate." And if that chocolate is Theobroma, it'll be a treat fully "Alaska Grown."