"We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the others, without the tree." -- Pablo Casals
Sometimes I feel like we live in a bubble—our little community tucked away in a valley surrounded by tall peaks and National Parks. When you look around, the people here appear to be a somewhat homogenous bunch, void of racial distinctions that set the population apart from, say, big city inhabitants.
Growing up in a more populated region of the country myself, I often wonder: Is it okay to raise children in an isolated valley? Will they learn racial diversity and real-life skills? And will the adults they encounter teach them about an existence outside of this somewhat sheltered one?
For the past two years, I’ve been lucky enough to head up Tetonia Elementary’s Outdoor Classroom program and it’s changed my views on the lack of diversity among mountain people. Our program, held in cooperation with Full Circle Education, a local farm-and-garden nonprofit, not only teaches children the importance of growing their own food and healthy eating practices (enter, real life skills), but it also brings together a very colorful group of adults rallying for a cause.
However you may choose to label the range of people who live here, “move-ins,” “hippies,” “Mormons,” “cowboys,” “Mexicans,” “rednecks,” “good ole boys,” the diversity in this town of 266 people is mind blowing! We come together at PTO meetings, bringing our various experiences and backgrounds with us. Some grew up here. Some moved here from other states or even other countries. But when it comes to assembling resources, it’s all hands in.
This year, the cowboys helped the “move-ins’ build two new garden beds and a composting station. Mothers from different religions and backgrounds came together as old friends to weed and prep the garden for planting, while the vibrant children hauled dirt, learned to recycle their lunchroom’s compostable waste, and tasted new foods from the garden.
Maybe not all of them “get it” (children and adults included) and maybe the take-home lesson won’t sink in for years to come. But the act of building a garden that will shape our children’s future, their relationship with food, and the way they collaborate with others, despite their differences, is a lesson that isn’t taught in just any community.
This special thing we’ve got going on truly exemplifies humble service—one where we toss aside our backgrounds and combine our beliefs to build something grand.
When we harvest in the fall, the different shapes, sizes, tastes, and colors of the vegetables we grow will all represent the difference facets of our community that made this effort whole. And that my friends, is the underlying take-home lesson on how building a school garden truly shapes a community.