Growing a Garden as a Metaphor for Hope

In their book Learning Gardens and Sustainability Education, authors Williams and Brown (2012) uplift the power of metaphorical thinking. Using a metaphor of living soil, they reimagine how education might look with school gardens as fundamental part of its vision. This post offers growing a garden as a metaphor for hope in these very trying times.

Growing a garden is hard work. It necessitates looking the conditions that already exist and examining the structures that led to those conditions. To green a concrete playground, for example, it takes earth-moving equipment to break apart human-made surfaces, haul them away, and start anew. It may seem daunting at first, but one has to begin somewhere.

George Floyd began his search for a fresh start when he moved to Minnesota. Nearly one month ago, he confronted an inconceivable affront to his humanity and was robbed of his life.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 in the city he moved to for a better life, his last moments caught on video. While being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. The video shows Floyd pleading that he is in pain and can’t breathe. Then, his eyes shut and the pleas stop. He was pronounced dead shortly after.

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN, This is how loved ones want to remember George Floyd

In a recent episode of the podcast On Being, Krista Tippet (based in Minnesota) asked her guest, Reverend Lucas Johnson, “Where do we even begin?” to dismantle racial inequity and social injustice. Growing a garden is not nearly as hard as fighting for racial equity and social justice, but the starting point is similar.

I begin with meditative listening.

Hearing the voice of trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem, for example, fills me with hope that humanity can learn to heal ourselves, and each other. As the daily news spreads disturbing images and ugly soundbites, I turn to the firsthand perspectives of individuals who have lived racialized trauma to learn what I can do after listening, which may include taking risks.


~ Resemaa Menakem, Healer, Author, Trauma Specialist

Growing a garden involves taking risks. A piece of once-living material, given optimal conditions, sprouts a whole new organism that can feed us. Putting a tiny seed ground is a hopeful endeavor. Nurturing seeds and soil has transformational power, yet not nearly as much as the power of social justice work, which is done is the least optimal conditions in our society.

We must also take risks to create, to work in, and to advocate for diverse, inclusive spaces, one of which can be a school garden. Then, we can actively pursue more socially just ways of interacting in those spaces. At Manzo Elementary, the school garden program was started to address systemic neighborhood trauma and it persists through community partnership and intentional leadership.

One organization whose work has inspired me lately is Trellis Education. Their mission actively supports educators to engage in STEM teaching as an act of social justice. Two of their key strategies are building community and keeping commitments.

We must ensure our students of color, immigrant students, students speaking languages other than English and female students, in particular, have consistent access to excellent STEM teachers and opportunities.

~ Trellis Education

Growing a garden also requires building community and keeping commitments. It cannot (and should not) be done alone. Similarly, it is not enough to “set it at forget it” as is so often done. I’ve seen school gardens “built” in a day by corporate groups with no affiliation to the site, where not a single child, parent, or teacher lifted a trowel. Similarly, reading a single book, taking a single course, or joining a single protest does not fulfill the need to build community and keep commitments.

Gardens are (literally) rooted in our history as human beings. Unfortunately, racism and injustice are also rooted in our history. In this moment in time, and especially today–Juneteenth Day–it is my sincere hope that the living metaphor (and act) of growing a garden offers an opportunity to reflect on our collective responsibility to reimagine what tomorrow can look like for those who suffer perpetual racial injustice.

Sustaining school gardens through evidence-based practice.

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