Now in the middle of the half term week, on this gorgeous afternoon, I wanted to write a little about the last day of the half term, which ended so perfectly, and captured in the course of a single day so much of what this work is about, and the joy and delight it is to be amongst a group of motivated adolescents.
Luca was away, having stayed up all Thursday night following the election. A die-hard Corbyn supporter I can only imagine the excitement he must have felt as he watched the results roll in. He had dyed his hair red, and vowed to only eat red food that evening.
This past week he has been clearing out a room to be used as our kiln room – he has a passion for ceramics and he and Isaiah have been working hard to create a space to fire their clay. We have a kiln now, the electrician was called in to put in a 3amp power supply, the carpet has been ripped up and the underlay scraped off (with a butter knife!) and they want to paint one of the walls.
On Friday morning though, Luca was asleep. Isaiah came in first, and checked the community email to see what orders had come through. In this past month they have earned about £500 from the sale of the vegetables they have grown. The main earner has been spinach and broad beans. Their initial suspicion of growing something as uninteresting as spinach has given way to an amazement at how easy it is to sell freshly harvested organic spinach. Or, I should say “Soil Association organic in conversion” since we are still in the middle of the organic certification process.
There is much excitement about earning money. They are genuinely enthused by it. They research what other companies charge for similar produce. They make contact with local retailers. They take phone and email orders, and keep careful accounts of their income and expenditure. They graph their income by product and are quick to identify the products that are a waste of time, and those that are in demand. They write up marketing blurbs for each of the products, slipping in pieces of paper about the phytonutrients in spinach, certain that their customers are avid readers as well as organic veg enthusiasts.
They had a brainwave the other day – lets add QR codes instead of slipping in paper, and create a webpage for each vegetable. From idea to execution was about 30 minutes. All our vegetable are now QR tagged.
What do they do with the money? A certain amount has been spent on the mice-breeding project which Eva and Sofia are managing. The concept is, as I understand it, to breed mice to specific colours, on demand. You can imagine this has captured the imagination of two 13 year old girls as few things can. It is a joy to see their enthusiasm and passion, and I am sure they will gain a deep appreciation of Mendelian inheritance.
What else do they do with the money they have earned? Not so much at the moment. After a presentation on the history of money, there was much interest in the future of money and research into cryptocurrencies. The young people have decided to invest some part of their earnings in ethyrium which they are convinced has a brighter future than bitcoin. One of them has suggested we invest in the hardware needed to mine for bitcoins. Watch this space.
On the subject of watching spaces. The vetch has grown tall in the quadrant we have left uncultivated. Next week we will pull it out to look at the root nodules to get a sense of how much nitrogen it fixes. Apparently vetch fixes something like 250 lbs of nitrogen a hectare, which is more nitrogen than you are legally allowed to add even within organic certification. It is extraordinary how intelligent and efficient nature is. Paul Graham, Reader at the University of Sussex. is visiting us next week to help us set up some bee experiments.
Isaiah and Tiernan headed out that morning to harvest the rest of the broad beans, and then pull the plants out by their roots as their season is done. The compost pile grew higher and higher, and an improvised 2-story composting area had to be set up using fence posts and pallets – a problem they identified, came up with a solution for, and executed the solution without a single word from an adult. It is inspiring to see moments like this. Tiernan came in at some point and said they need one more person to help, so Jesse joined them – our visiting poet-in-residence.
Meanwhile Lydia has been working on a reinterpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. She went to Venice with her mum over the Easter holidays and was captivated by the bible stories her mum told her. She’s been reading the parables, and rewriting them in her own style, supported with artwork. She has found her stride with her artwork – Tara is so good at drawing out their strengths and the artwork they produce is astounding.
Lydia also found time in the morning to collect the kitchen receipts from Cami our amazing chef, and totalled them up – she helps manage the kitchen budget.
Sofia and Eva were working on probability games all morning, estimating the probabilities of various combinations of coins and dies; while Aidan was polishing his short story on a misadventure in Greece that involved a soup that wasn’t to his liking. His writing is delightfully humorous and he takes genuine pride and pleasure in producing good work. His pattern is sustained deep interest in a piece of work that he finishes to a high standard – this past half term he completed a wonderful series of maps charting the gradual westward expansion of the United States.
As a group we analysed John Gast’s painting American Progress – I did not tell them the title or date of the painting but asked them to have a conversation about it – and it was remarkable how astute their observations were, how thorough, and how well-informed. As a group of 12 and 13 year olds, they covered all the points you would expect an undergraduate class to cover.
The analysis of paintings has been a point of interest this past half term. We had a social historian come in and help us analyse paintings from the Victorian period, to have a sense of how paintings can be a form of social commentary. Eva has been writing short stories inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings – in a crime noir or “hard-boiled” style that reminds me of Lee Child. She picks a painting and write a story in which the scene captured by the painting plays some not insignificant role.
There is an atmosphere of industry through the morning, and time passes quickly We gather for lunch at 12. The topic of discussion on Friday was what impact border control has on trade. They are genuinely interested in the world and it is a pleasure to share these discussions where the adult brings knowledge, and the young person brings ideals. It is a thought-provoking environment. They ask essential questions, such as “Why can’t we get rid of passports?”; or “Why can’t we have one currency?”. These young people are incredibly political, and wonderfully, delightfully, powerfully idealistic.
After lunch we played stuck-in-the-mud which is the current favourite after-lunch-game. Then we piled into the conservatory at 1pm, with our scripts. The young people have decided to put on a performance of Midsummer Nights Dream and not just a scene or two, but the whole play. With Jesse’s help they have cut it down from 60 pages to 40, have divided up the roles amongst themselves in a way that each of them is happy with, and were reading through the play. I know from the parents that over half term, each of them has been spending hours memorising their lines.
Later that afternoon we finished training the 150 cucumber plants in the poly tunnel. We will harvest c. 2500 cucumbers in the next 6 weeks. We cut off the side shoots from the strawberry plants – all 90 plants – so the plant can focus on its fruit rather than its shoots, and surrounded each with a donut of straw to keep the slugs and woodlice at bay. Eva and Sofia finished off the wood brackets they are making for a shelf for the Elementary in Hove; and Lydia cleaned out the duck coop. We finished with the end-of-week clean up: tables cleaned, floors swept and mopped, rugs vacuumed, toilets and sinks cleaned. And then we gathered back in the library where we read for a short while, before it was time to go home.
There is an incredible energy to these days. The sun shines in the sky, and makes its way into these young people, and they, like prisms, split that light into its colours, and each of them is different and unique, and there is a brilliance and a brightness to these young lives, and it is humbling to share this journey with them.