Global Gardening

By Eve Pranis

It wasn't a guacamole fetish that inspired Arlene Marturan's Columbia, SC, 7th grade geography class to plant a GrowLab avocado plantation. Their study of rainforest deforestation and their comparisons of monocultures and diverse forests spared the idea. A local Mexican restaurant supplied abundant avocado pits, and the avocado plantation became a simulated monoculture backdrop for their forest studies. Imagine what parents received that year for holiday gifts!

"I had initially gotten a grant as an elementary environmental education teacher to develop a Global Gardening unit," said Arlene. "When I was suddenly transferred instead to teach middle school geography, I thought about how to tie GrowLab gardening in with geography. The connections were endless!"

The avocado plantation was only the beginning. Arlene's class also raised honey locust trees in the GrowLab as they studied current world forest issues. With help from an orchid specialist, they grew a range of orchids and identified their native countries. Through a "rooting friends" project, they exchanged information about native plants and foods with a peace corps volunteer from Malawi and with student pen pals around the globe.

As a long-term geography project, each student researched the native plants and foods of a particular country. This dovetailed nicely with the class GrowLab Victory Garden, raised to complement World War II studies. "The Victory Garden," said Arlene, "soon sported plants native to the countries students were researching-zinnias, marigolds, and portulacas from Mexico; savory oregano, chervil from France; pumpkins from South America. Our herb growing success and a spice company's educational kit sparked a project that included creating spice-scented world maps, and mapping the origins and spice trade routes of herbs and spices."

"When I first suggested to these 7th grade geography classes that we might explore geography via plants, they thought it was a crazy idea," said Arlene. "But as they got involved with the planting projects, they were excited to see things grow, and soon started to make the connections."

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