Monday, August 8, 2011

How can a pebble make a bigger splash than a boulder?

The stacks of spotless, crisp notebooks and bright back-to-school accessories are already greeting us at the entrance of stores. I don’t know what it is about school supplies that still draws me - my days of HAVING to have a 5-subject binder with a dreamy picture of Rick Springfield on the cover are long over!

I hope you’re not yet getting caught up in the back-to-school flurry, but rather still enjoying some quality time doing perhaps little more than skipping rocks, or maybe meditating on the slowly spreading ripple-effect of a pebble tossed in a pond. Only so many more days before that pond will freeze over!

I’ve been thinking about the “ripple effect” a lot as I’ve been talking to some of the teachers who are enthusiastic advocates for the Got Dirt? Program. One story in particular had me a little misty as I was swept up in her story of all the unexpected influences her simple garden project had. Here’s the short version – there were actually many more ripples!

An elementary teacher came back from a free workshop with the design plans for a Microfarm – basically a small, self-contained garden on wheels. She showed the plans to the father of a student who had been helping with some handy-work around the school, and his eyes lit up as he assured her “I can make that”. This parent happened to be between jobs, and while the project truly was a very easy one for someone of his skill - the opportunity to hear his kid tell classmates “my Dad built this” was just as empowering and rewarding as being the most popular parent on career day. Ripple: engaged and happy parent, one who happened to really need a boost.

The kids planted seeds for a variety of greens, which sprouted quickly and were ready to harvest in just a few weeks. Each student planted a recycled milk carton for themselves plus another for a friend. When it came time to make the harvest into a salad, the students invited their friends to join the feast, many of them other teachers and school support faculty. Who isn’t flattered by a lunch invitation? Ripple: The feeling of family across the whole school was enforced, and even school staff who might not feel like they have the same influence as teachers were honored to be picked as “friends”.

Seeing the impact this project had on the kids during the salad luncheon, several other teachers could see how easily the Microfarm could inject great hands-on enthusiasm into a multitude of lessons. The fact that it is portable and works quickly made it easy to arrange a schedule for multiple classrooms to use in turn. Ripple: that initial effort saved time and money in the future, and for more classrooms.

It keeps going! The health department recently contacted the original teacher to discuss whether the Got Dirt? Garden experience could be the foundation for the research piece of a grant they are pursuing to expand some school nutrition programs. It turned out to be just what they are looking for. Ripple: Wow, you can see how that ripple can grow and keep going!
So, I love to think of the Microfarm garden project as the little pebble that makes big ripples. When I start talking about classroom gardens, many seem to be intimidated by the big splash – the big boulder of a project like an outdoor raised bed complete with corn and compost bins and weeding schedules and … whew! Bigger projects are heavier lifting for sure, and they do make a splash that’s impossible to ignore … but don’t underestimate the power of the pebble.

Want to learn how? Give me a call at 920.391.4655 or email Or take a peek at the free instructions on building a Microfarm at

Training sessions to help you decide what type of garden is right for you, and advice on how to get started are also FREE at training sessions across Wisconsin – find us on Facebook or Twitter for announcements as workshops are scheduled.