In the backyard of a home in Wrightwood, kids are energetically picking cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon from a lush garden that resembles a miniature farm, complete with chickens and a dog roaming freely. “Can we pick this watermelon?” the children ask. “Do you remember how to tell if it is ripe?” asked Daniela Rey, who is the owner of the home and teacher for the next two hours. Together, they look at the vine and locate the tendril directly next to the stem coming off the small melon. The tendril is a small strand that looks brown and dried, which they taught me is a clear indicator that the watermelon is ready to be eaten. It would be one of the many useful things I would learn that day. But for them, this is just the start of another day at school where the garden they tend to is their classroom.
Growing up in Columbia, Rey spent weekends gardening on her family’s farm and has fond memories of escaping the overcrowded cities where her family lived. “It feels so good to be gardening and outside in nature. I wanted that for my girls.” Rey relocated to Wrightwood two years ago from Los Angeles with her husband and two children. As a homeschooling parent, she felt it was necessary to spread her knowledge of plants, so she created an educational program in nature studies. Now in its second year, the Gardening & Nature Class is taught by Rey and offered as one of the homeschool classes through the Wrightwood Education Studio (WES). The 8-week course is centered around gardening, where children learn about growing food, and it also emphasizes science, where they study the importance of biodiversity, which, in connection, supports the different ecosystems.
As the children eat the fruit and vegetables from their bountiful harvest, Rey reads a book called the Thanksgiving Address which is a greeting that originated from the first nations–indigenous tribes of Canada. It acknowledges the earth and everything in it, including people, waters, plants, animals, wind, and sun. After the children finish their snacks and proclaim what they are thankful for (which extends to dogs, birds, and watermelons), they engage in fun games and then a mindfulness walk behind the house, which allows for some play time before the routine garden chores begin.
Back in the garden, the children enthusiastically raised their hands for the various chores on the list, which includes: watering the sunflower seeds they planted, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs from the coop, and harvesting potatoes that would be made into a soup for next week’s snack. “How do you know it’s time to harvest potatoes?” asked Rey. ‘When you get hungry?’ I thought to myself. “When the plant dies,” was the more obvious answer which came from the kids. The gardening pots which housed the potato vines were dumped into a large wheel barrel while kids frantically dug through the soil to be one of the lucky few to find a small, golden spud. After chores, the class gathers on a large patio deck overlooking the garden to complete a diagram of the life cycle of a sunflower and journal about their time together, spent entirely outside, in nature.
This class is in high demand and fills up quickly for both the fall and spring courses. “Parents want their kids to have this experience where they spend time outside and learn,” said Rey. Although she would like to offer everyone the opportunity to grow in the garden, she can only take a small class size of 10 kids so as to not over-harvest and to have a more productive, intimate learning environment. But Rey continues to share her knowledge of plants in other ways by making homemade teas, tinctures, and salves that she sells on her online store growinguprooted.com. The organic products provide a multitude of health benefits, and Rey shares her herbal wisdom on the blog and on Instagram, where she advocates to others the healing ability of a life rooted in nature.
If you want to learn more about the Wrightwood Nature School or purchase one of the homemade products, visit growinguprooted.com or follow @growing.up.rooted on Instagram.