In the past week and a half, I’ve had two groups of students over to my place for a meal. I find these get-togethers a really important closure to our work together over a semester, as they give us a chance to relax, celebrate, and bond in a more casual context. This time, however, I also had another, secret agenda.
The weather cooperated both times and allowed us to bring the food, and blankets and chairs, to the backyard. There, amidst happy chatter about the past semester and summer plans, the conversation would inevitably turn to our surroundings. The chickens were the cause of much amusement as they clucked away puzzled by the presence of so many human creatures and eagerly dashed for every crumb that fell off a plate. We talked about the food that was on said plates, and the fact that some of the ingredients — the eggs, the greens, the herbs, the radishes — had come from just a few steps from where they were sitting was eye-opening to some of them. And they asked many, many questions about the garden: What’s this plant? What can you do with this one? Why do you have copper around your raised bed? I’m thinking of starting a garden next year — how much work does something like this take? And so on.
Oh, I loved talking about all of that with them. We’ve spent the semester discussing Homer and the Bhagavad-gita and the Bible, but this aspect of my life I don’t usually get to engage in the classroom very explicitly. This was my way of smuggling in a bit of urban sustainability education to these bright, delightful young people, many of whom are already curious and some of them quite knowledgeable. I shared some of my “made from scratch” projects with them, said a little bit about why I think all of this matters, but mostly I just expressed my passion and gave them a taste of a certain way of living. Some of them left carrying leftovers, others recipes, yet others some surplus lettuce from our wildly successful “lettuce independence” project. Two of them are coming back tomorrow for an introductory spinning lesson.
This method really works: don’t preach, cook a good meal instead. Leave them eager for more. And then show them that they too can do the same.