Why I Sing in Gardens: A Beginning

The year: 2012.
The place: Berkeley, California.
The wherefore: I had just started an apprenticeship with Urban Adamah, an educational farm rooted in Jewish wisdom, ritual, and agricultural tradition.

The story: On a sun-soaked September day, I arrived at the garden, nervous, and excited. I love working with kids, and my school garden internship had started.

Rachel welcomed me with a tour of the outdoor classroom.  She was my supervisor, and had seemed quiet when I first met her.

But I was ready to follow her lead. Especially because I brought nothing to teach!

I had never taught at a school. Before this adventure in environmental education and growing food, I had been trained in sociology – and before that, musical theater.

That morning, she mentioned a song she’d sing with our first, second, and third-graders. “The FBI,” she quickly noted, flinging her arms about in the shapes we’d form with our bodies during this call-and-response song. I’d pick it up when we sang, she assured me.

And sure enough, when Rachel strummed the shining ukulele, the kids jumped up wide-eyed. They sang “The FBI” by the Banana Slug String Band.

They bubbled forth the refrain, calling out the garden’s “FBI” – “The FBI, whenever something dies, the FBI, is there on the scene!” “That’s fungus (fungus), bacteria (bacteria) invertebrates (invertebrates) the FBI.” With each member of the F, B, and I, the kids made a mushroom cap with their arms, shimmied their fingers, and wiggled like a worm. I followed their lead.

I learned as I watched:

  • The open air was a perfect chance for kids to stretch their bodies and voices, on of the instant benefits of an outdoor classroom.
  • With “The FBI,” we learned how life works in the garden and soil. But songs for gardens can teach about people too: the range of foods people plant, hopes and memories about food and gardens…
  • Gardening is hard work. Songs put silliness and beauty into this work. Kids can sing and work at the same time – the time will fly by.

Five years later, and many enviro-ed gigs deep, I’m studying Agroecology, an interdisciplinary effort to build healthful food systems – systems building ecological resilience by growing and sharing food equitably.

For my Masters program in Agroecology UW Madison, I assembled a Garden Songs training and handbook/songbook, inspired by my volunteering at Troy Kid’s Garden with Community GroundWorks. Read on for the “Garden Songs” manual and songbook, and the story of this project.