As the days get longer – but not necessarily warmer – here in Montana, our service members are eagerly awaiting gardening season again! We’re hosting a #throwbackthursday to warmer days when the soil was ripe and ready for planting. Polson service member Mary Auld reflects:

October in fourth grade can be hard. For the twenty eight students crammed into tight desks trying to wriggle themselves into friendships, or good grades, or trouble; for Mrs. Howell, who meets me at the door framed by the rowdiness of her class behind her; and for me, some girl from New York who is going to teach these spirited Montana kids how to grow food despite the combined heat and nerves that send sweat dripping down my back. The only person who seems to be really succeeding in fourth grade today is Jack, the boy in the front row who spends the entire time I’m introducing the garden with his body swiveled completely around, trying to make the kids behind him laugh. Despite my attempts to earn his attention and his teacher’s scolding, it works. The table behind him is a sea of giggles.

This is our first trip to the garden this year, and Jack is one of the students who raises his hand when I ask who has never been to a garden before. I am mildly terrified of the possible outcomes of our excursion.

Once in the garden, I give a quick demonstration on planting garlic. I show the students how to place a clove in the soil, pointed end up, and pack soil around it.  Then I send all but a handful of the kids off to do a scavenger hunt, planning to have the children plant cloves in small groups. It becomes immediately apparent that pushing a clove of garlic into the soil under my watchful eye is not nearly as exciting as walking around to explore the garden.

“CORN! THIS YELLOW STUFF IS CORN!”

One child shrieks, and a flock of others rush to inspect the discovery. Tools, root vegetables, bugs, and weeds, are all the object of intense scrutiny and joy.  I can hardly help the children plant garlic for the number of questions I’m asked, and the number of hands that pull my arms toward fresh discoveries. My plans for in-depth discussion about this garlic as part of our food system fade.

Jack, the front row entertainer from the classroom, approaches me as I’m helping his classmate place her clove of garlic. He repeats my name, bouncing at my elbow. When I turn to him he holds out a shriveled bean pod in his hand. “What IS this?” As I begin to answer I am distracted by another exclamation. A while later I scan the garden to see Jack furtively dissecting the bean pod. Soon he’s at my shoulder again.

“Miss Mary, Miss Mary, it’s a BEAN SEED! Can I plant it?”

I tell him that we’re planting garlic today, that we plant beans in the spring, but by now he’s already bounded away to show his friends the treasure. The next time I have a moment to breathe I look up to see him crouched over a bed on the other side of the garden. He reverently makes a hole for his seed, lays it in, and pushes soil over top of it, periodically glancing over his shoulder to see if this will get him in trouble. He strides through the garden with purpose, sneakily planting all the beans he’d found, and then scouring the grass for more fallen pods.

On that warm October day, the garlic was not planted in perfect rows. Cloves were dropped in the grass, or peeled and nibbled, or planted upside down so that their bulbs will be misshapen if they grow. But one boy who could not follow directions held seeds in his hand and planted them in the earth, determined to grow food.