By Illène Pevec
Ever heard of bertolagas? In English we call it purselane (Portulaca oleracea), one of our great volunteer plants. Many people just pull it out, but I love eating it raw. Let it grow! It’s high in omega 3 fatty acids.
There’s medical research happening around this plant’s seeds to treat lung cancer, and in Puebla, Mexico where I am currently preparing garden beds in El Jardín de Paz de los Niños (A Child’s Garden of Peace) at a daycare called Casa Cuna, I am leaving one half bed in purselane, and distributing the rest to the daycare kitchen, the children’s parents and my host family, as it’s a popular food here.
I started this garden two years ago with the 49 one-to-five year olds this daycare serves, and many teen volunteers who come to do their graduation requirement of community service at Casa Cuna, a free program for economically challenged working families. This garden was a gift from the spiritual group I have been part of since 1970, Subud, which held a world congress with more than 2000 people in Puebla in 2014 where I suggested we give a gift to the city’s children. This garden is our gift.
It has a beautiful mural depicting Mexican rural life. It was designed by two local Subud members and painted by about twenty volunteers. Being here again to help engage the parents, teacher, and care givers with a garden full of life gives me joy and peace.
I began creating gardens with children because I had an “aha” moment that led me to dig and plant with them. So far, I have helped develop school and community gardens in Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United States. It’s hard work physically, but filled always with delight and discovery. Today, for example, I discovered deep in the mature compost we started two years ago a creature that looks like a 2.5-inch long bright orange lobster. Its common name in Spanish is “cara de niño,” which means “baby face.” It scares any but a crustacean mother.
It took three of us two hours of work to pull off the grass clippings, corn stalks and other garden debris from this pile that I knew was hiding the mature compost very much needed to fertilize the volcanic sand here. Once we get all the good worm castings into the garden beds, we’ll attempt to organize the mountain of debris into a new compost pile for the worms to do their magic in, along with Baby Face.
Closer to home, my new book, Growing A Life: Teen Gardeners Harvest Food, Health and Joy contains more than 90 youth voices describing their experiences in school gardens in Colorado, New York, New Mexico and Oakland. The young gardeners speak intimately of the enormous sense of achievement they get from growing food with their peers and adult mentors, and of the inner peace they harvest along with the vegetables. They speak eloquently of the pleasure they share while growing gardens at school. Who knows where life will take us, but following a garden path with children has been a lovely one for me to explore.
Illène Pevec works as program director for Fat City Farmers in the Roaring Fork Valley where her work not only is in the dirt, but also in supporting teachers to use growing gardens to meet Colorado learning standards. Her five children and seven grandchildren will attest to the fact that getting children outside exploring is her passion. “Growing a Life: Teen Gardeners Harvest Food, Health and Joy” will be published by New Village Press in 2016