Gardening at Pioneer School

Two (Green) Thumbs up for Flawless

On Monday afternoon last week, I returned from work sweaty, covered in dirt, with mud under my fingernails and nettles in my hair. My shoes tracked dirt, there were bits of dead leaves stuck to my pants and all sorts of grime on my face, and I feared I’d shake a spider or two out of my shirt when I shook it off to throw in the dirty clothes bin.

And it was awesome.

I’d just spent the day working with Pioneer School staff and students to ring in the third season of the Flawless Garden of Miracles. We cleaned out the greenhouse, weeded, and brought two carloads of starter plants (veggies, flowers, and herbs generously donated by Drakes 7 Dees in SE Portland) and soil so the school could enjoy another Summer of bringing students back to the earth, back to their bodies, back to nature.

For me, the day was especially important because it meant getting back in with the dedicated people at the Pioneer Schools; I was able to interact with some of the educators regularly when I worked with Flawless in 2008. Returning to the site of so much important work – work that impacts childrens’ lives, but that also transformed me as a person just because I was lucky enough to bare witness – really helped knock the Flawless mission back into the center of my line of vision. The people at the School can spend hours a day on the sole task of de-escalating intense – often even scary and violent – situations, and return the next day, just as ready as ever to do what it takes to stand for these children. Their faith in compassionate care is staggering, and to call their collective spirit “inspiring” doesn’t seem to do it justice.

The highest point of the day was the moment I first laid eyes on the garden. Sure, it had experienced the ware and tear of Fall and Winter, but right there, growing away, was a whole plot of plants. Some of the students had lobbied so hard to go into the garden that groups had already come out ahead of schedule to get to work. Some weeks it can be difficult for a class of these children to find any free time at all, and knowing they wanted to spend it out in the garden boxes was a great feeling. I knew I was walking into a program that had really come to be valued, had become a part of the healing mission of the school.

Janine, our Founder, ranted and raved her excitement that the project had started up the season on its own. “I love that it’s becoming self-sustained, that it’s really something they need and want here,” she beamed, “everyone – the kids and the teachers – are so enthusiastic and excited, they couldn’t even wait to get started!” It really is becoming its own machine, and the efficiency is exciting to note; as the seasons progress, the garden’s use of past materials has become more and more innovative, and the need for donated materials has decreased. This way, we’ve been able to put our attention on even more productive ways to help the garden, like by sending teachers to Master Gardening trainings through the Growing Gardens program in Portland.

Now, I’m no greenhouse Goddess, but I can tell you that watching the kids work together to plant strawberries was enough to get me on my hands and knees yanking weeds ’till I was sporting a face full of dirt. The effect of working in the garden was immediate: the students were calm, they worked with each other and with their teacher, they were laughing and cracking jokes, and I don’t think they stopped smiling. They were excited to don gardening gloves, rip open bags of topsoil, and pat those strawberry starters into perfect mounds (apparently strawberries prefer to grow in mounds…you learn something new every day!) because they were having fun. Finding time for fun can be tough for these kids, and there they were working together and enjoying themselves in the garden, getting their hands dirty, sharing a few laughs. Shoot, if a few hours of weeding and organizing a few shelves of planters was what it took to make sure these students could enjoy just being kids, it was worth the dirty fingernails, manicure be darned!

Huge gratitude to Flawless board member Alice McCarney of Alice Hair in NYC. Her generous donation three years ago – in honor of her brother, Seanog – launched the Garden of Miracles for its first season. Without her initial support it wouldn’t have grown into the solid program it is today! Thanks so much, Ali!

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