At this very moment, my palms are stained the loveliest shade of neon red. Yesterday, they were a deep, cabbage purple. Several seasons of school garden soil are crammed under my never-manicured nails, and it will not budge, no matter how well I scrub. Both of my thumbs sustained painful but non-life threatening injuries this past week. On Monday, I nicked my left thumb while cutting I don’t remember what. This happened right after a knife skills and safety training. As I say to the Kindergarteners, maybe I should have had my listening ears on (during that training). The tip of my right thumb narrowly escaped a trip to the ER yesterday when I carelessly misjudged the food processor I was cleaning after prepping that hand-staining, purple cabbage. My hands tell the story of my FoodCorps service.
“Whoa! That color is the REAL beet red!” exclaimed a fifth grade gardener. “What does it taste like?” “Can we eat the beets?” and “I WANT TO TRY IT!” were shouted at me simultaneously from every direction. “Oh kale yeah, we are going to try it!” I responded as I chopped a few slices of beet to add to our smoothie snack. The smoothie got unanimous thumbs up from all the taste buds involved. I am still truly amazed that the smoothie pulled of unanimous thumbs up, as those are the most rare! As I handed out the smoothie recipe at the end of the lesson, many of the students told me that they planned to make it at home. One student said, “My grandma has a blender at her house, so I’m going to make it with her. But I’m going to use regular milk instead of coconut milk.” Beets planted in the heat of summer, watered by volunteers throughout August, and pulled from the soil by elementary school sized hands left their mark on all of us.
I remember the sticky August evening when we planted those beets. With the help of a few teachers and a couple students, we planted three varieties of beet, Red Ace, Candy Stripe, and Golden, along with cilantro, lettuce, and spinach. The teachers weeded the summer and winter squash as the students attempted to water the peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, and sweet potatoes while mostly watering each other. Spring and summer days like these spent in the garden are still quite visible on my cracked and calloused hands. Maybe by the end of winter, the soil that is snuggled into the crooks and crannies of my fingernail beds will finally break free just in time for another spring planting.
My hands are dirty, sore, and stained. With my hands, I help to dirty more fingernails, stain more palms, and so far, I have been fortunate enough to avoid any dicer, slicer, and chopper accidents that could not be solved with a Band-Aid. My hands tell the story of connecting kids with real food so they can grow up healthy, but my hands are the least exciting side of this tale. The tiny hand choosing local, cabbage salad for her lunch tray. The student’s hand as it pulls a beet from the ground for the first time and all of those hands giving thumbs up. Those hands tell the real story.