Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Harvesting Corn

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Probably somewhere there is a poet who could or has put the sacredness of a school garden corn harvest into words.  Mine come out melodramatic, in my attempt to capture the awe of the moment.  Even Wild Child was radiant and smiling, proud of the work she did to help create our bounty of blue corn.  This is how it went.

There was no farm machine, chugging down row after row.  This work was in children’s hands, held by grownups who love them, toiling in a space of reverence.  Celebrating life, the giving thereof, the cycle of planting and growing and pollinating and watering coming around to harvest, to the action of taking down the sky-reaching plants, pulling off the ears, and preparing them to dry.  This corn has lived with and in these children for months already, and it will continue to live with and in them as it dries in their classroom in months to come.  They will be reminded from time to time that the words the corn hears will enter into the corn, and so they should choose gentle and kind words to speak, so that when they eat it they are not eating anger and meanness.

In the spring, they will grind it and shape it into tortillas and finally eat it. Their work will become food.  The children will eat the corn, simple food, a tortilla, and they will know in their bodies the months of work that it takes to create such a thing.  They will be at some deep level conscious of the history that goes into their bodies.  For they know that their seeds were saved for them by the grade before them, and those kids’ seeds were saved by the grade before that, and so on, year to year.

But the story of the corn goes beyond the school, so in the digging of compost into hard soil, and in the planting of the seeds, and in the summer-long watering, and in the raucous dance of shaking the stalks to ensure full pollination, and in the scattering of corn meal onto the ground to give back, and in the uprooting of stalks and the shucking and weaving together of the ears, the children hear repeated the story of the corn.  The story of the people who grew it on their mountainsides on Mexico, and of the culture which the corn sustained there, and then of the influx of agribusiness and GMO corn; the story of the fear of the people that if they lost their corn, they would lose themselves along with it.  And the story gets longer with each retelling, as it reaches toward the present moment of harvest, when children around the world are caring for this corn, the saved-seed corn of the people in Mexico who have asked for help in keeping their corn alive in the face of unthinkable odds.  And the children hear themselves become part of that story. 

It seems too great a story for them to bear on their shoulders, and yet in the end, or at least where it ends this year, it is a story of fruition, of community reaching beyond geographical and cultural borders, of people helping people, of preservation, in its deepest sense.  And perhaps this generation of children growing into a climate-changing world has to bear too great a burden simply by virtue of their age, but at least here, in the garden, we can teach them that in their hands they hold the power to sustain life, and keep alive the seeds of hope.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. I love that the children are conscious of how their words can affect other living things around them. I'm wondering how I can incorporate that lessons into my own preschooler's experiences. Thank you for sharing - what a wonderful experience for this school :)

  2. Beautifully written, and an education for me! We live within a farm but things are done large scale, and although the kids can't help but love combine harvesters, they also love harvesting things themselves. A true celebration of the Earth.
    I'm sure those tortillas will taste just *right* to the children once spring comes around.

  3. How Dewey-esque! The process of doing is often separated from the process of learning, and it shouldn't be! As a teacher in an English classroom, I'm often telling my students that the only way they can become writers and readers is to do the dang thing - and I totally get that from the way you are teaching your kids about food, culture, patience, math, science, and the value of hardwork by doing.

    Besides that, it was, as Syenna says, beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I love everything about this post. I can't wait for your book! I want to get to more of this depth with my daughter too. We have had a little veggie garden, but you describe a whole other level.
    I really like the idea of grinding the corn into tortillas and then eating it. How will they ever take anything for granted after that?

  5. What a way you have of writing! Thanks for taking us there. I love the idea of generations of corn sharing.