Adlt 606: #4 Field of Dreams-Embracing the why

“People will come, Laurie.  People will most definitely come,” say my gardening friends.  Asking a master gardener about the validity of a program such as the “Community Gardening Day” events designed for the adults of student gardeners is like preaching to the choir.  Master Gardeners gravitate to any training or educational experience that enhances one’s skill as a gardener.  Trainees, those who matriculate through the state program register for the course understanding that there are many previous ideas and assumptions to be challenged.  They take the “why” harder than the well-seasoned gardener. It is common to listen to the sighs of frustration between presentations. Our instructors, university professors, county extension agents as well as those engaged in private practice, are well skilled in releasing the whys behind their presentation.  They have no problem telling us what we are doing wrong and presenting the science behind it to validate their statements.  We accept the why and embrace it.  After all, to refute the science behind the why is to make oneself look less than enlightened.  On numerous occasions, I have jokingly suggested that one of the training sessions should be “Partner/Spouse 101,”  you know the individual (s) that we live with who not only refuse to embrace the why, but whom at times, sabotage the why of our work.  Laughter erupts, listeners nod in agreement and the conversation moves on to another topic.  I am left holding the proverbial bag, thus exposing a weakness in our program.  Where do I go from here and how do I engage others to embrace the why? Help!

James Earl Jones, in his Field of Dreams monologue reminds Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, that baseball is a part of America’s past.  It reminds us all of what was good and could be again. All he needs to do is to build the baseball field and then people will miraculously come.  How different is this idea about baseball, the Great American pastime, and America’s roots in gardening?  All I need is to create a gardening program and the community will come, yes?

Take any small group of people and give them a little time to reflect and reminisce.  Conversations about gardening and family members reflect significant experiences for many adults.  Older adults share memories of how gardens created to sustain families during the depression transitioned to Victory Gardens during World War II.  Middle-age adults recall hippy parents who become exurbanites who live organically.  Many within my surrounding area talk about how their grandmothers “put up” fruits and vegetables to enjoy during the winter months. Time spent with family doing work that is useful and meaningful reminds adults about what was and can be important.  Conversation almost invariably moves in a circuitous manner, as adults wonder why they no longer garden.

An important component to state and local gardening initiatives is to show that gardens provide nutritious food for family members with minimal cost and maxim health and economic benefits.  I have considered these ideals when creating a series of gardening events for adult learners.  Cafarella’s Successful Transfer of Learning Model considers the elimination of barriers a component that does not affect a program in isolation, but rather is interconnected with other factors. The Community Garden program, encompassing four learning events is broad enough to make the learning experience complex.  I found it challenging to take twenty or more initial objectives and condense the program into eight achievement based learning objectives (ABOs). Successful transfer of learning is crucial to the participants overall feeling of time well spent, as well as the acquisition of useful skills.  When writing this program, I considered carefully the myriad of ways Caffarella suggested as possible reasons for the lack of transfer.  The “other important people in the learners’ lives” is the one aspect of change that causes me concern.

I have neither the tools nor the experience thus far in my own gardening life to assist others.  When faced with an unknown I typically reflect on my experience as an educator and as a student for inspiration.  As a student in the Teaching with Technology track, I am reminded of the power of crowdsourcing as a way to problem solve.  In the world of digital learning, one is never alone.  There are many gardeners on Twitter ready to supply an idea or suggestion.

There are many changes necessary for learners to become successful gardeners. Embracing the changes necessary to create a community of gardeners means being willing to embrace a period of transition.  William Bridges suggests that every transition begins with an ending, is followed by a period of confusion, which eventually leads to a new beginning.  While some adult educators may consider this a misuse of his theory of transition, I would like to suggest that the learning events in this program indeed require greater effort, time and consideration, on the part of the learner, prior to making the leap to change old behaviors with new ones.

What behaviors will need to end?

  • Composting means that participants need to create a new routine for waste management along with time to sort the harvest. This practice is easier said than done.  Composting eliminates excessive garbage and smell during the warm months, yet means remembering to sort correctly and to feed worms that are living in your home. (To which some readers say, “Yuck!”)
  • Gardening preparation means that participants will need to consider the health of the soil by testing and amending it. The clay soil in Virginia leaves much to be desired!
  • Intensive gardening means considering not only the spacing of plants but also the need for resources and beneficial partnerships with other plantings, such as flowers and herbs.
  • The old method of plop and go does not yield a successful crop of vegetables, as a friend recently lamented when telling me of the death of his garden.

The structure of the learning tasks provides a safety for the learners as well as accountability for me as the designer.  I structured a time for dialogue and discussion during the induction period of each event. The time to understand the context in which learning occurred engages emotional intelligence on the part of the designer and implementers. Leaders should strive to develop a personal relationship with each participant.  Bridges suggests that individuals keep the connections to the people and places that define who we are. Learners who feel a sense of connection to the community garden and a sense of acceptance among the volunteer gardeners may develop a positive reaction to their new learning. Merriam and Clark suggest that in order for the experience to be significant it must be attended to and reflect on.  Dialog provides a place in which the learner could tell his or her story about the learning. It is my hope that the learning events produce positive effects on the learners through education. An increased sense of worth, because of the learning and relationships developed through the program, makes the effort necessary to produce this program well worth it!

I listen to Margaret Roach’s podcast “A Way to Garden,” while doing housework or while waiting for soccer practice to end.  I find her weekly dose of “gardening know how and woo woo” inspiring. Through her podcast interviews, I have met many gardeners of national importance, who share failures and successes of a life of gardening endeavors.   She is Terrance Mann and my fellow gardeners are the baseball players of games long gone. She is standing in the community garden telling me, “If I plan it, they will come.”



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