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The Greening of TC

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Tom James

Tom James

I happened to be walking in Russell Courtyard a couple of weeks ago when I noticed several planter boxes decked out with growing vegetables. The scallions caught my eye, green and delicious-looking in the noonday sun. We have a garden growing at Teachers College, I thought to myself, and walked on with an extra spring in my step.

Coincidentally, at a meeting the next day of TC’s Committee on Community and Diversity, a student announced that a community garden has been started at Teachers College and said he hoped people would get involved. The reaction of the committee was highly positive.

Yet another intriguing piece of information came to my attention over those same days when I was reflecting on gardens and our diverse community at TC. After reviewing competitive bids, TC has a new vendor to manage its dining services. The vendor, Culinart, believes in sustainability and ecologically friendly business practices.

Among other things, Culinart will at last repair TC’s gargantuan dishwasher so that we can use porcelain instead of paper bowls, plates and cups. The company also emphasizes getting produce from organic farms in the region, contributing to a larger culture of sustainability beyond our own institution.

As I considered all these developments, a new prospect seized my imagination. All around our campus, I would like to see more plants—trees and bushes, vines and flowers, even mosses and ferns. Let’s also look at our buildings, their many spaces and uses; at our habits of life in this institution across all dimensions of our work; at how much around us in this world desperately needs sustenance; at ways of growing and being healthy in body, mind and spirit.

In short, it’s time for the greening of TC. Or rather, I should say it’s time once again, since TC started as a place dedicated to healthy growth for all. Over a century ago, Grace Dodge, whose portrait adorns the Trustee Room in 109 Zankel, started a kitchen and garden club—a group of women dedicated to working with poor immigrant families who were arriving to New York City during one of the greatest eras of human migration the world has ever known. Out of that club and the passion of those women for helping others, a small institution emerged that subsequently developed into Teachers College.

We have a lot of work to do if we want to bring that principle to life with all its potential for humans and the natural world. But it strikes me that gardens and kitchens are not a bad place to start when imagining what is possible in education. Discovering how to grow things, finding new growth within ourselves, seeking the best possible growth between and among ourselves as a learning community—through all these venues, we learn to be healthy and helpful to others in a diverse community as we build our professions in education, health and psychology. Speaking for myself, I can say that this is the kind of club I most want to belong to, and it is for everyone.

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