I’ll never forget his face after telling him that hamburger came from cows. His lips curled into a smile, his eyes squinted, a giggle escaped from his mouth as he said, “Nah, you are kidding!”
Many years ago I sat at a table with four preschoolers and had this exchange. I don’t remember how we arrived at the subject, but in that few minutes, I discovered that one of my students believed that juice came from a can and hamburgers from McDonald’s. In that moment I decided it was time for a field trip.
This preschool was located on the very outskirts of Lacey, Washington and surrounded by small farms. I drove past a berry farm every day on my way to work; it was less than a mile from the school. I waited for the “u-pick” season to start and then took the children to pick strawberries. We came back with several pounds and drank smoothies for days.
One of my housemates at the time worked at a small organic farm outside of Olympia (where I actually lived), so I arranged another field trip. On the farm they grew a large variety of veggies as well as raised goats and chickens, and ran a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
The children walked through the corn stalks and the tomato plants that stood several feet taller than them, fed the goats, and pulled up their own carrots. And, this is when the magic happened. The look of pure delight on the children’s faces as the long orange roots emerged from the dirt is forever imprinted in my brain. Some of the children eagerly rinsed them off with a nearby hose and ate them then and there.
Some years later, as an elementary school teacher teaching just a mile from where I live now, I witnessed this again. I took my second and third grade students to Underwood Family Farm, an hour’s drive away. Part of the program included a trip into the fields where they could harvest their own vegetables. As children pulled up carrots their faces lit up, squeals of joy escaped their mouths.
There is something magical about taking children, who for the most part are removed from our food system, to a place where food grows. I remember feeling this magic myself when, as a young adult, I saw melons and Brussels sprouts growing for the first time. Gandhi once said, “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
Maybe the magic comes from rediscovering a piece of ourselves that had been forgotten.