Twenty kids are dialled in with laser-like focus as a baby brown snake slithers out of the compost pile I am perched upon. I have been working in classrooms for the last two years and I have never seen children captivated like this. The snake slips off into the grass and a wave of squeals, laughter and questions erupt from the students. It looks like my lesson on decomposers will have to take the back-seat.
During my time as Gardens Intern, I have witnessed moments like this speckle each week of rare‘s Every Child Outdoors (ECO) summer camp — where children of all ages are free to explore the 900+ acre rare reserve. Here, they experience a multitude of meaningful outdoor environmental teachings — some carefully planned by the education team, others caused by curious critters checking out the commotion. This feeds into our unique approach to education, called the rare Chain of Learning, training the next generation of land stewards by providing children and youth with the tools and the desire to become environmentally-conscious citizens of tomorrow.
I work at the Springbank gardens, located in the heart of the rare reserve, where every year a dedicated team of staff and volunteers grow over 6,000 pounds of fresh produce for two local food banks. Each week, we look forward to the group of ECO campers coming to visit for an afternoon. They tour the gardens, learn about the magic of compost, discuss issues of food security, and to top it off — taste some garden veggies! Fresh tomatoes, zucchini, kale and lettuce are harvested by the campers and tossed into a group salad enjoyed by all. This is many of the students’ first experience tasting organic vegetables or seeing what each of these plants look like before harvest. Watching the children interact with the plants and make the connection between land and food is far sweeter than any of the cherry tomatoes we have growing in the gardens!
To continue making positive shifts in conservation, it is critical to create a meaningful relationship with nature. Throughout the summer, I have watched smiles spread across the faces of people big and small as they visit rare and nurture that relationship. When we work with the earth, we are building those memories, emotions and personal connections. We are cultivating a framework for caring to take place, where “the environment” shifts from an abstract idea to an integral network that we can participate and engage with.
I encourage anyone to step outside and begin to find those ways they can connect. Seek out ways to contribute to conservation in your community and re-establish those natural relationships! If you have the fortune of being close to rare, feel free to visit or volunteer and enjoy the Springbank gardens. Just make sure to watch out near the compost pile!
For volunteer opportunities, contact Laura.Klein@raresites.org or visit raresites.org.
By Matthew McGuire, rare Gardens Intern
Matthew McGuire is an OCT certified educator with experience working with K-8 students across Ontario, from Ottawa to Moosonee. He is currently the Garden Intern at rare’s Springbank gardens where he combines his passion for environmentalism and education.