How can we keep from working?

Yesterday there was a snippet on NPR about school districts that paid students for every book they read. They found that the students did, in fact, read more books, but they chose shorter books. One of the researchers being interviewed voiced that he feared students were learning that books were a chore – an object to be read for a reward – more than a way to get information, to expand our world view, or just to enjoy prose. This leads to an interesting conundrum: how do we motivate children to do – well anything – garden, read, eat fruits and vegetables?

These girls from Tunisia are chopping potatoes at the Village Green. Some kids dug and washed them, and then the girls got to work.

The answer is in another question: what motivates us to do anything? Why do people who work at non-profits get out of bed every morning for their sixth work day of the week and get jazzed about reading a soil micro-biology text book and loading Christmas trees onto jolly families’ cars? They certainly aren’t getting paid much to do it, and when they bring up what they learned at family, holiday gatherings, they will receive disinterested blank stares. Then a friend sent me a Ted-talk by Dan Pink on motivation. It turns out when folks are offered a reward for doing a task, their productivity actually goes down instead of up.

Dan Pink showcased Google and a New Zealand Engineering Company as examples of companies that let their employees be creative and play around with whatever ideas they want. These companies found that days where employees did what they wanted to do were incredibly productive and were the birthplace for some of their best inventions. The idea is that the companies trusted that their employees were excited about their chosen profession. They would invent for the sake of inventing – not because they were expected to invent. Employees are motivated not by bonuses but by autonomy.

The most coveted garden chore: watering!

People want to feel like they are free to make choices, and they want to contribute. In any community: our neighborhood, our church, or our work environment, we want to feel like we bring our skills to the team; we are valuable players. This idea: that we trust people to want to be the best they can be in any given situation – is the key to management, community building, and educating.

Using our mad fruit tree planting skills for a baby persimmon

    The Civic Garden Center is like that one day at Google – every day. So why are we reading that soil text book, moving wheel barrows full of compost, or trying to pull off fantastical cooking adventures with children without recognition or reward – because we absolutely love it. We can’t put that book, shovel, spatula, smile down.

How do we get employees and kids to garden? Just let them do it. Show them how, give them the space to do it, and then just let ‘em go!

Yesterday after listening to the NPR piece, I was visiting a friend who does garden education in Wilmington, Ohio. The Civic Garden Center has one of the most unique education models: open the garden gate and let the kids come in. Kids aren’t enrolled; their parents don’t bring them; there is no obligation to come every time; there are actually no expectations at all besides tolerance and gardening. It is so rare to find a program that has the same structure (or lack-there-of) as ours, I was delighted to share thoughts and ideas with her. So we went to her garden. Sure enough three girls came out. Gardens are kid magnets. And the girls proceeded to pick and eat spinach and broccoli and weed the garden – pulling out frosted tomato plants, bolted broccoli, and dried up mammoth sunflowers. How do you get kids to eat vegetables and work in the garden? How do you keep them from doing so?

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