June 4th, approaching midnight. After weeks of brain storming, communicating back and forth, and uncertainty, finally, the field trip had been approved. The night before, the forecast was predicting thunder showers. "Thank you for generously providing us with rain," I thought as I started to waver along the road to sleepland. "Thank you for enabling a rich experience that will connect these youth to Nature on this land that has become home for now," I concluded.
Translation in-between the lines: Please hold off the rain for this time, at least until after our visit!
Back tracking a month and a half, Sarah Wright, the teacher of the English Language Development class at Rideau High School had shared with Brittany and I that some of her students had originally been destined to farm back home in their countries. As can be expected, some have been struggling with the new reality of having to dedicate the next years of their lives to academics, which back home wasn't at the epicenter of each youngster's life as it is in the Western world.
That's when the idea first germinated. Why not organize a field trip to Just Food, introduce the students to our friends there, share about the awesome work they're doing, and make the connection between students and the Start-Up Farm Program?
Perhaps some of the students may find comfort in learning that farming could still become a reality. Even if not, it would at least be an opportunity to spend a day on the dirt, beneath the big and fresh open sky.
Either way, it was sure that some seeds would be planted in their minds.
Walking up the driveway of Just Food, Amin, a Nepali youth asked me "are there animals here?"
I confirmed there were, and he asked what type. "I know there are deer for sure, probably raccoons and groundhogs..." "Are we going to see some?" a Congolese fellow named Yahaziele asked excitedly. "Maybe!" I responded.
Arriving at the big red barn, Erin O'Manique warmly greeted us and exchanged introductions with all of the students, teachers, and volunteers. I noticed then that some of the girls had what looked like daisies in their hair, and huge smiles.
"Who here eats food?" Erin asked, and pretty much all hands shot up. "And who likes to eat food?" she asked and again all hands went up. "So you are also part of what we call the food system," she explained. Amin's hand shot up "Miss, do you have fruit here?" he asked.
On seeing the others vacuuming down the little strawberries, they quickly joined in.
"They're so good! They taste so much better than the ones from the store!"
"You know my last name?" he asked. "No, I don't." "It's the same name as my language," he said, still carefully holding on to that little snail.
As our little group made its way from plot to plot, hands ran through fuzzy seed heads of grasses. Grasshoppers were caught and closely inspected. Dandelion seed heads were picked and blown into the air. Random bursts of excited laughter were often carried off into the gentle breeze along with the calls and chatter of red winged black birds, seagulls, and other winged ones.
Growing steps away from where we'd done introductions, Amber pointed out Goat's Beard and
shared that the previous day she'd harvested a handful of unopened flower buds to include in her dinner. She plucked one and ate it. A sudden excitement surged through the air. "We have this in my country!" said Ilianna, originally from Greece. "Yeah, in my country too we eat this!" said Abbas, a fellow from Iraq. They both shared the names in their languages, which I'm kicking myself now for not remembering, but it was really neat because the names were so similar.
Seeing the way their faces suddenly lit up made my chest fill with emotion.
It was as if the plant was connecting them to home.
Wandering behind the farm house, the youth discovered another patch of wild strawberries and in no time where on their knees, picking away. We got a head start on eating lunch, and were soon joined by the group that had just been with Ron - they were pretty hyped up, declaring they'd just tried honey that was soooo gooood!
Ron walked us through a very informative introduction on bees and explained the importance of staying calm while near them. Abbas raised his hand: "what if a bee gets on me here (pointing to his neck) and does something? Can I call 911? Can I call my family?" he asked with a very concerned air. "You'll be ok," he was reassured, "just remember to stay calm and everything will be fine," he was reminded.
When the time came to enter "the Zone", most of the youth were interested in getting up close. They put on netted hats, suits, and gloves, including Abbas, who went for the full suit. We got to where there was a warning sign and those netted up went on, while the rest stayed back. I was right at the edge, wanting to go in but there were no more nets. Ron told Brittany, Ms. Okuda, and myself that we could come closer if we wanted to, so we did.
I put my word out to the bees that I was going to come close just to check them out, and that I was coming as a friend. Approaching, there were SO many bees around, it felt like the air was charged with electricity as they whizzed around. My body was tingling and the hairs on the back of my neck were on end!
"A special jar of honey for a special day," he said. "Yup," he continued thoughtfully, "Three hundred and sixty five days in one year... this was one special day."
Much gratitude goes out to Erin O'Manique, Amber Westfall, and Ron St.Louis for generously sharing their time and passions with the Rideau High students, despite this being the hectic season - none of this would have been possible without you! Thank you to the folks at Just Food for allowing us to have this memorable experience at their farm. To Ms. Tully, and to Ms. Okuda for her good nature and humor that was a tremendous support: ありがとうございました! And of course, a big thank you to Ms.Wright for connecting us with her class of amazing students, and for being the kind of open-minded and creative teacher that connects her students with interesting experiences and activities that most youth don't have access to.