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SEEDs Retreat Gives Students Memorable Sustainable Living Experience

3 February 2012 admin 1,852 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

By Emily Venable, Grade 11

Riding in a white St. Margaret’s minibus on Thursday, January 19, seven students and two teachers made their way to Camp Stevens in Julian, Calif. For the next 32 hours, the group escaped the routine of high school life and embraced the outdoors and nature by learning about sustainable living.

The occasion for the trip was the second annual SEEDs Retreat. Jump-started by the addition of the St. Margaret’s Episcopal School Garden to the St. Margaret’s community, the project gained momentum though last year’s retreat to Camp Stevens. The SEEDs Project strives to educate students and families about how to lead sustainable, healthy and natural lives. The retreat trained Upper School students on how to teach Lower School students lessons using the garden. Director of Community Life Mrs. Lora Allison and Upper School Science Department Chair Dr. Jennifer Ross-Viola joined the seven students: freshmen Elizabeth Stevens and Mary Powell, juniors Tori Deckard, myself, Ashley Eichenauer and Alexandra Oscar-Rodriguez, and senior Nick Adams.

Upon arrival at Camp Stevens, the group immediately dropped their bags off in the cabins and went straight to work. The activities varied from making a model wood-fired cob pizza oven to mixing compost with peat for ideal soil to simply sitting silently in nature or under the stars and taking time to reflect on what they learned. There were also sprinklings of fun activities such as acting out various animals found in the mountains and feeding the farm’s chickens.

Beneath all the lessons was the underlying theme of using the five senses to observe nature. The students became acute to the tiny details of the world when they were told to focus on one sense in particular. The afternoon hike, which took up the bulk of the first day, gave everyone the chance to strengthen these senses. Sight was exercised by being challenged to find a specimen from the forest to complete the color spectrum in the middle of what appeared to be a green and brown landscape. The sense of scent was strengthened when asked to identify various herbs and plants. When blindfolded in the middle of the hike and led to the peak of the mountain, the group was forced to pinpoint the audible factors in the forest and take in the whipping wind. Atop the mountain beneath the beating sun, the depravation of sight ignited a new appreciation for the surroundings. By digging with vigor through soil, the sense of touch added a new range of textures to its database. And even taste was utilized when a couple of the students went so far as to taste the soil when asked to describe it with detail. They truly embraced the retreat.

In addition to these fundamental lessons on how to observe, the group was armed with information on how to plant seeds, how seeds grow, how to make compost, how to utilize all parts of a plant, and how to live sustainably. However, unquestionably, the most valuable lessons were those focused on how to take the information we learned to go back and teach in our community. With fun games and practice, the students left the retreat with a strong sense of how to communicate the lessons learned using the St. Margaret’s Garden as a classroom.

One lesson that stood strong in everyone’s mind was a fact stated by one of the group leaders when teaching about soil. She stated that in one tablespoon of healthy, nutrient rich soil, there are more organisms than there are humans on earth. This not only was a staggering statement, but it really put into perspective how much bigger the natural world and its workings are. There are so many levels and procedures that go into gardening and the natural cycle of life that will never be truly understood. The understanding of all the tiny pieces that must come together in the soil to produce our food gives a deep appreciation for the small processes of the earth.

 

 

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