Picture 800 giant Mammoth Sunflowers planted in row upon row in a corner of the elementary school lot. Each towered a good six or seven feet tall, each leaf the size of a dinner plate. It made a veritable jungle and was surreal to walk through.
This was one of my quirky ideas back when I was a volunteer (motto: you can get away with the wildest schemes, and they can’t fire you) and of course, whoever comes up with an idea “gets” to be responsible for pulling it off.
I come from a gardening family and raised my own kids around dirt and plants and tools of the trade. This was yet another version of my idea of fun.
While the sunflower project was actually tied to an art lesson, the agricultural aspect of it turned out to be a real eye-opener for me. Maybe kids say the darndest things, but they don’t lie.
Each class was led out to the garden area where I explained that we were going to plant sunflowers and spend the next weeks monitoring the plants until they bloomed. Each student had a Popsicle stick with their name on it, which would help them find their own special flower during the wait.
I carefully handed each student a sunflower seed. They looked at me blankly.
“What do I do with it?” one asked.
“You walk over to the row and plant it,” I patiently explained.
One little boy stared at his seed very hard. “Do I eat it?” he asked.
“Well, you put it in the ground and bury it,” I said, “Then you stick your name beside it.”
They stood there staring at me as though I had suggested one of the stupidest things they had ever heard. It was obvious they had never planted a seed before. They could not fathom how putting something that had edible value here and now would be improved on by sticking it in the dirt and walking away.
This…from a grown-up! Incredulous looks turned into something like pity for me as they went through the motions and slowly filed back to the classroom.
I can’t decide which of us felt more crushed.
You can only imagine the next week or two while I watered and waited in more than a little angst until the first shoots came up. Over the course of the eight week experiment, students came out and toured the expanding garden, searching out their own plants, measuring them, petting them, and encouraging them to Jack-and-the-beanstalk heights.
They brought parents through after school.
Eventually, at the end of the school year, it was apparent that their one humble seed had become more seeds than they could count. I hope they were encouraged to garden at home. I hope they understood on some level that food does not come from a grocery store or out of a package.
I know the garden connected earth and art. I know it spoke to their minds more eloquently than a grown-up could. I know we made great memories.
And I hope they will always look at a sunflower seed and see possibilities.