Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My six-year-old is in charge of Mother Earth

My ears perked up when Clara came home from a kindergarten science class last year with the proud and earnest proclamation, "Guess what, Mama? I'm in charge of Mother Earth."

Clara comes from a long line of environmentalists, people who took care of the earth even before the term environmentalist was in vogue. 

For generations, members of my family worked the earth as farmers even as recently as my paternal grandmother's family, working a small farm in a small town in Illinois. While other members of our family didn't farm for a living, nearly everyone in the family kept a vegetable garden. They kept connected to the earth.

In high school, my sister was the president of the Environmental Club, and I was the vice-president. We were activists, changing school policy about frog dissection, organizing a city-wide Earth Day festival, educating others about factory farming, and at times probably too self-righteously advocating to others about the benefits of vegetarianism. 

One of my most memorable protests was picketing outside of a McDonald's urging passing cars to "honk for a McVeggie burger." Looking back on that high school photo, I think the short shorts my classmate and I were wearing might have been provoking more honks than our cause.

I admit with some sadness and regret that as an adult I never learned to set up a vegetable garden of my own, and my environmentalist activist days of high school seem far in the past. The closest connection I have to the environment these days is taking long walks through the woods and supporting a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where we get farm vegetables once a week.

I am happy that Clara has a sense of urgency and caring for the environment even if the nudge in that direction came initially from school rather than home. 

Over this past summer, we explored Clara's interest in caring for Mother Earth in a few ways:

1. We started an herb garden. In the spring, we bought basil, thyme, and rosemary and planted it in a small container outdoors. We watched the herbs grow abundantly, using them occasionally in our cooking but mostly enjoying their exuberant smells. Inside, Clara planted a basil plant from seed that has grown steadily much to her delight.

2. After seven years of being a member of the CSA, and never actually seeing the farm, we finally visited the farm for garlic harvest day. We had a great time getting our hands dirty and seeing the beautiful land where our vegetables come from. 

Our experience at the farm indicated that Clara may be prone more towards entomology than gardening. She picked a few garlic bulbs, but she spent the majority of her day collecting worms and keeping them moist and happy in a pile of dirt!

3. Clara joined a camp called "It IS easy being green" where she learned about composting and growing things. One of her favorite activities was making pickles out of cucumbers.

4. I finally got Clara to join me for walks in the woods. I enticed her with descriptions of the wildlife we would find. However, this was a bit of a gamble on my part since many times I don't see much beyond a sparrow or squirrel. I felt a sense of victory when in our most recent journey, we spotted almost a dozen frogs, a snake, many friendly dragonflies, and a monarch butterfly.

How many frogs do you see?

We still have a long way to go to being the environmental family I dream we can be. I would like to grow an actual vegetable garden rather than just herbs. I would like to compost and keep our waste at a minimum. However, last summer did feel like a step in the right direction of re-connecting with Mother Earth.

I am proud to be the mama of a six-year-old who feels she is in charge of Mother Earth. Her enthusiasm is helping me to feel hope for the future of our planet and to re-energize the teenager environmentalist in me.


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