“Raise your hand if you have any prior experience in planting!”
Only one or two students raised their hands in response to the question.
On 26th March 2017, a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, 23 Tzu Shao (Tzu Chi Teenagers Class) members and 9 Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the Kampung Senang Charity and Education Foundation’s organic vegetable and herb farm located in Tampines. Everyone brought an empty plastic bottle for the sole purpose of “growing vegetables”.
Teachers of the Teenagers Class had specially planned for this outside-the-classroom activity, in order for the youths to personally experience the challenges of farming, so that they might better appreciate Nature’s precious gifts of plants and vegetables and be thankful to the farmers’ hard work, as well as appreciate that it is not easy to cultivate the food for daily consumption.
The Kampung Senang organic farm has been under the watchful care of volunteers over the past 18 years, and has seen numerous batches of visitors periodically. Kampung Senang staff, Pan De Cheng taught everyone how to plant carrot seedlings in the plastic bottles: First, cut the plastic bottle by half, followed by drilling a few small holes in the bottom half of the bottle to serve as drainage holes for excess water; then, scoop up some soil with the upper half of the bottle and fill the bottom half with the soil before sowing carrot seeds into the soil.
A student was moved to remark, “Lightly place the seeds in the soil, don’t sow too deeply.”
As the seeds were newly sown, Pan De Cheng instructed the students to lightly spray the soil with water as over-watering would make the soil too soggy. He would also test the pH levels of the soil regularly.
Then, everyone came to the vegetable plots to personally experience the process of transplanting seedlings. As they were all rather unfamiliar with gardening, the youths were quite clumsy and awkward while doing the work.
“Oh no, my hands are dirty!” a boy exclaimed.
To avoid getting their hands dirty, some of the youths bent their backs and simply placed the seedlings on the soil’s surface, causing the accompanying volunteers to hold back their laughter.
The volunteer in-charge of guiding the group reminded them, “If the seedlings are not planted well, they can’t grow and can’t be harvested as vegetables!”
Upon hearing that, everyone promptly kneeled and gently dug little holes in the soil bed with their hands and placed the seedlings in them.
In the process of transplanting the seedlings, Tzu Shao member Lian Jia Xi shared, “First we learned how to transplant the seedlings into the soil, followed by how to ‘fry’ the soil, a process that sterilizes the soil.” Another Tzu Shao member Zhou Jia Xuan added, “We can’t fry the soil for too long or it may lose the nutrients.”
Kampung Senang’s volunteer also shared with the students how to sterilize commercially bought soil by frying, and mixing the soil with natural compost, to improve the soil quality.
Lian Jia Xi said, “We’ve learned how to identify caixin, celery, kailan and other vegetables.”
And what really impressed Zhou Jia Xuan was how red Maple leaves could help to stop bleeding, and as someone with green fingers, she even took some aloe vera home to plant.
This outdoor experience enabled multi-sensory learning, and the students even had the opportunity to taste various types of healthy organic vegetables. These modern-day youths took a break from their electronic gadgets that day to enjoy a refreshing and fruitful experience learning about gardening!