Teatime in the Garden
By Simon Mendes
This past school year as a Food Corp service member at Sust`ainable Molokai, I visited weekly with Kumu Teddy Sotello’s second grade class at Maunaloa Elementary. On a typical class day, I led students outside to their small, designer 4-by-4-foot “tea garden” bed—constructed at the beginning of the year—where we’d harvest a couple of pieces of mint and lemongrass. I collected the harvest, poured over hot water, and we’d wait for tea to brew.
While waiting, we learned songs courtesy of the Banana Slug String Band. The classes’ favorite song was “Dirt Made My Lunch,” which highlights the path from soil to plate — fitting to sing while the tea brewed. I asked students to volunteer to trace their recently-eaten school lunch plate back to the soil. If one student had beef, for example, and they were stuck on how that could make it back to the dirt, I’d simply pry, “Well, what does a cow eat?” and the students would shout out, “Grass!” Then I’d ask, “Where does grass grow?” and the students would shout, “In the DIRT!” Problem solved!
Once the tea was ready, each student took a little cup for tasting, and wrote reflections in his or her “Tea Journal.” One memorable response came from a student who wrote: “I enjoyed the iced mamaki tea, but next time I will add 10 scoops of shooger.”
As the year progressed, I introduced other garden recipes. We made use of our over-abundance of mint by preparing a cucumber mint salad, washed down with mint-infused lemonade. The students enjoyed the cucumber salad, which they were so willing to try because they grew and harvested the mint themselves. They took so much ownership and pride in their tea garden that whenever other grades would come near it, they’d form a sort of chain of protection around the plants, ensuring nobody picked without the strictest permission!
In the final class of the year, we made mint chocolate chip ice cream from our garden, using our own mint, spinach (for green color), fozen bananas from the Middle School garden, soymilk, honey, lots of ice, and a few mint chocolate chips. The students couldn’t believe something “so healthy could taste so good” and that “ice cream could be healthy!”
I have so much pride and joy in what we accomplished this year. Tea was just a start, and I think fitting for a first year. It was a gentle but effective introduction into eating from the garden, making that initial connection. Looking ahead to the coming school year, Sust`ainable Molokai recently completed a beautiful greenhouse at Maunaloa Elementary. The structure stands proudly in front of the school, and will be home to so many plants and garden excitement for years to come. I’m confident that the second, now third grade students will become leaders in that greenhouse. I can’t stop smiling as I imagine students rushing up the walkway at the start the day, so excited to check in on whether their little seeds have germinated just yet.