In addition to our school vegetable garden and internal CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), we have a coop with 8 laying hens. The AP Environmental Science classes work in the garden every Monday and harvest the produce that will be provided to faculty and staff subscribers during the school year. In this way, the garden program is self-funding, and students learn from experience exactly how difficult it is to grow food to meet expectations.
The chickens in the garden are our program's local celebrities. The kids love the chickens and the fresh, local chicken eggs are a very prized item for CSA subscribers.
The chickens, however, are a little bitchy. Bitchy and not too bright.
The reason we know this is that the faculty have to take care of the chickens once the school year is over and the kids are out of school.
Taking care of the garden is one thing. It's very meditative to come in to the garden once a week and pull weeds in the sunshine (or more likely, in the fog). Taking care of the chickens, on the other hand, can be a pain. As I said, they are bitchy and often peck at their caregivers as well as at each other. They knock over their feeding bins, poop in their communal water trough, and hide their eggs away from sight.
For this reason, it's always a good idea to tend our chickens on the buddy system.
So during our weeklong training session at school this week, I often brought my lunch down to the garden with my friend and colleague Cathy Christensen to hang out in the rare sunshine and assist with the chickens. One of the other AP Environmental Sciences teachers, Kathy Melvin, was already there between the rows of kale and chard, pulling weeds and listening to Bob Dylan.
Cathy and I ate our lunch, bravely fought off the chickens as we righted the water bins, filled up their food stocks, and gathered eggs.
When we were done, I asked Kathy M whether I should put my compostable fork into the compost pile with my plate and napkin. As a new composter, I am sensitive to the limits of low-tech composting systems, as opposed to our city's industrial strength composting system. I was trying to be mindful.
She said, "It won't decompose in there, but it will spark a good conversation."
That answer told me everything I need to remember about why I love our school and my colleagues there. As Michelangelo wrote to himself in his 80s (on a note found in his studio after his death), "Ancora imparo — I am still learning."