Guest Post: Faculty Member Dexter Miller

Going Back to our Roots

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Today’s trip to “The Greener Garden” urban farm really inspired me to share some of the amazing work that is being done in Baltimore City. Before our summer program began, I thought that it would be a great idea to try to inspire our Gents to tackle some of the environmental issues that plague our city. Issues that I am referring to are human-caused pollution, blight, understanding a balanced diet, and best practices for sustainability. Classroom instruction can only pave the way for some of the important work that needs to be done, and so, creating an opportunity for students to learn through hands-on experiences can not only deepen our knowledge of classroom content, but also work to solve environmental issues immediately. After all, our summer theme is all about being a “change agent”, and we are preparing young men to be the change that they seek. 

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Herein lies my enthusiastic rave about “The Greener Garden”, located at 5623 McClean Boulevard, right here in Baltimore. Never in a million years did I think that I would be the student, and my students would be my teachers. Each visit to the farm brings lessons about irrigation practices, species of plants, and the many uses of plants. My students’ interaction with the urban farm teaches me things far beyond what I could have ever braced myself for. “Mrs. Blue” as she is commonly referred to, brings a wealth of knowledge, and teaches those who visit how to co-exist within their environment in a healthy way. The main takeaway from today’s visit was learning the importance of the root, and getting rid of weeds, or harmful roots. For those that do not know, the root is arguably the most important part of a plant. The roots absorb water and important nutrients from the soil and bring them to a plant, which in turn allows it to grow and prosper.

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On my way home today from the farm I had a thought about something Mrs. Blue said to the group of young gents. She mentioned that years ago before modern medicine practices took over, those who could not access medical care from professionals had to rely on generational knowledge about which plants could be used for healing. She went on to talk about the multitude of plant uses, ranging from food, to medicine, to hygienic products. Each point she made connected to a common theme of getting back to the basics, or root of a problem/ailment. Her and I chatted a great deal today about the importance of teaching younger generations about the sources of many of the products that we sometimes take for granted today. For example, the mint in our toothpaste comes from plants, as does the aloe vera used today to treat a student’s mosquito bite.

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Without lessons such as the ones taught at “The Greener Garden”, both older and younger generations of people miss the importance of cultivating and using plants to better ourselves. If there is one thing that the gents who volunteer at the urban farm have taught me, it is that you get back as much as you give back. These young men give so much to this urban farm, and in return it gives right back to them. It gives ground cherries, cucumbers, sage, parsley, vivid conversation, bonding experiences, and teachable moments. The farm gives our students a connection to their environment which is healthy and positive. It teaches our gents how to reduce our carbon footprint on the Earth, and how to eat a balanced diet, as well as how to grow food sources that are sustainable. To see this garden of knowledge taking place each and every week not only humbles me, but gives me the confidence that young men in Baltimore city can be powerful change agents. These are the types of stories that need to be shared about Baltimore, and if nothing else, I wanted to get the word out, that the gents I work with are getting to the root source of problems, and are doing things about them!