Food For Thought
The fine weather we have been enjoying for the past month or so has brought the summer into full swing with glorious displays from the wild flower meadows and hedgerows. Elderflower, foxglove, wild orchid and buttercup compete to attract bees and other pollinating insects while presenting us with an array of colour, more dramatic than any ‘manicured’ garden border. The sunshine brings out the best in all of us if we can spend more time outdoors to enjoy the flourishing foliage…unless of course you are one of the thousands of students swotting it out for the dreaded Leaving and Junior Cert exams. It seems counter intuitive to be studying science or poetry inside a library or a classroom when it’s all happening outdoors!
These thoughts come to mind as I introduce you to two young German students who are staying on the farm; Tom and Ruben are on a programme from their Steiner Waldorf school which sends all 9thgraders (14 and 15 years old) to live and work on an organic farm for three weeks. Eileen and Ian have been hosts for this scheme for a few years now. Their farm is a perfect fit for this enlightened approach to education; offering hands on experience of organic growing, interaction with another culture and language and a supervised environment away from home. The holistic ethos of the Steiner school (the curriculum was designed by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner) is shaped to work in harmony with the different phases of a child’s development, providing a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual needs. After each day, which may include farm chores, leisure trips to the wild Atlantic coast or accompanying Ian on an external school activity, the boys will record the day in their diary. It is at once a creative and structured learning environment. I spent a productive afternoon making pizzas with them and we all enjoyed the feast that followed around the table with friends. They also worked on an on-going project building stone walls in the new landscaping at the pond which will eventually provide an area for barbeques.
There are some Steiner Primary schools peppered around the country but it would be wonderful to see more of these principles introduced at Secondary level. It is a method that avoids early specialisation and the stressful rote system imposed to meet the demands of our state exams.
So if you are an anxious parent of exam stressed students who have to sacrifice the pleasures of the seasonal weather, be sure to bring in some of the goodness that is currently so inviting in the vegetable garden. Fresh, crisp, salad leaves and herbs will pep up whatever menu you choose to pamper them with. Here is a selection just picked from the farm.
Clockwise from the bottom; Little Gem, lollo Rossa, Parsley (curly and flat leaf), Calendula, Butterhead, Chive, Salad Bowl (red and green) and Deer’s Tongue.
Dress a mixed salad just before serving for best results. A basic dressing of one part vinegar (organic apple cider or Balsamic) to three parts oil (Good quality organic Olive) is whisked with a little Dijon mustard and honey. It can be useful to mix a quantity in a jar with a tight lid and refresh as needed. Alternative variations can be tried by using fresh lemon juice instead of vinegar and the addition of crushed garlic. The trick is not to drench the leaves with too much dressing and only add it immediately before serving along with a cheerful scattering of edible flower petals.
There is an arsenal of vitamins out there in the glorious early summer growth that will energise or soothe the worried minds of students and parents under pressure. When you think about it, we are all seedlings, in need of TLC.