In this essay, Edible Schoolyard NYC garden teacher Cecilia Galarraga writes about how she came to this role — and how it changed her definition of environmentalism.
“What I learned instead, from my students, was that environmentalism is richer, more nuanced, and more powerful.”
I came to Edible Schoolyard NYC because I knew personally the magic of growing up connected to the natural world. I spent my childhood building mud houses in streams. I rode my bike around the block until the fireflies came out. I had a secret hiding place under a tree in the apple orchard down the street. I grew up loving air and wildness and open spaces, and I wanted to help other young people to love that, too.
I came to Edible Schoolyard NYC because I loved teaching outside. I had spent a couple of years teaching in park settings, and I loved the chance encounters, the authenticity that the natural world could bring. When you teach in an outdoor setting, you as the educator are more of the facilitator, while the plants, the sky, the weather, the bugs and birds, do a good deal of the actual teaching.
I came to Edible Schoolyard NYC because I had been nursing a very novice container garden on my back patio, and I knew personally the little thrill, the sense of victory in making something grow in adverse conditions. I was ready to admit what I did not yet know about gardening and farming on a larger scale, but I was excited to be a learner myself, to take this new road and become an urban gardener.
I came to Edible Schoolyard NYC because I thought I was an environmentalist. And I was, in a certain way. I wanted to teach children to care for the earth, to see and value the fragile, vital connections between all living things, to see themselves as stewards in shaping their planet. That is part of it, too, but what I learned instead, from my students, was that environmentalism is richer, more nuanced, and more powerful.
Environmentalism is not as simple as preserving the land, the birds, or the trees. It is about preserving all that is connected to the land: people, culture, autonomy, health. Environmentalism is about reclaiming land and all that it has to offer so that all people may benefit.
When a Chinese student teaches me the word for “persimmon” in his language, it is because the food that comes from the land is a bridge between cultures. When a fifth grader tells me proudly about his grandfather’s farm in Puerto Rico, it is because connection to the land is part of our heritage as people. When a girl in first grade explains that the garden is part of her school community, it is because a little piece of land in south Brooklyn is where students and families of different backgrounds, religions, and languages come together to play, to learn, to work together, and to share the fruits of the earth around the table.
When I came to Edible Schoolyard NYC, I wanted to see what kind of teacher I could become if given the opportunity to work closely with young people in community, and what might be possible in the classroom that we created together. What has become possible, for me, is that I see our work through a larger, brighter window than I ever have before. What we do when we teach outside is holding sacred not just the land, but all of us.
— Cecilia Galarraga
Garden Teacher, Edible Schoolyard NYC