I spent Friday afternoon in a magic world of growing things.
The week I plan the field trip you knew it was going to be edible.
It is fair to say that farms and animals are few and far between in South Arlington, where I work, through Americorps, at an afterschool program for low-income, mostly immigrant children. While the parents of these kids want them to have every opportunity and advantage, they are also people working multiple jobs, often learning English, and supporting multiple family members. Apple picking trips are money, time, and transportation-intensive.
So, dammit, I was planning one.
Kids, ALL kids, should get to see growing things.
I said a prayer to the Traffic Fairy and we set off on 66 West on a Friday afternoon (locals know why this could’ve gone horribly, horribly wrong).
Blessed be, traffic was relatively calm and 10,000 school bus songs later, we arrived at Hartland Orchard.
I can’t say enough about the great treatment we got there. They greeted us with big smiles, fun things to do, and a gigantic and adorable dog that enthusiastically returned hours and hours of hugs and kisses.
First stop was a very loud and very crowded hayride (there were ultimately 27 kids and 6 adults on it).
We stopped on the way to the orchard to watch a pig race (!) which I was too slow with my trigger finger to capture, but the kids ate it up.
Then we went to the land of the apples, where we gleefully ran through the trees, squashing the sweet and tangy smelling soft apples with our feet, clutching our bags, looking for the most perfect specimens to take home. Farmer Hank gave the kids tools that almost looked like lacrosse sticks to reach up in the trees and grab the high-up fruit.
So great to see kids dwarfed by these beautiful living trees, connecting the food on their plate to the soil under their feet.
There was lots of “Get me that one Ileana! No, not that one—that one!”
And “LOOK how HUGE this apple I got is! Just look!”
When picking had ended, we went to their, for lacking a better word, playground.
Really, all playgrounds should have goats.
The animals were incredibly sweet and friendly (unsurprisingly, really, since the kids were feeding them through the fence).
In the background, note the totally awesome horsey swing.
There was also, how are these not everywhere, a corn box. Not a sand box. A corn box.
At the end, when the kids were running around and getting out some excess energy before getting on the bus, I sort of just wandered around marveling at how beautiful it was.
It meant SO MUCH to me to be able to help give the kids this experience.
The kids I work with are all what you could call disadvantaged. Fortunately that’s a bit of a misnomer, since they do have the advantage of having the staff of our learning center along with my fellow Americorps members all personally and fiercely invested in their well being.
However, it’s a reality of our country that some kids are growing up with a lot less. Sticking with the food discussion, we get weekend bags from the food bank to make sure that the kids get enough meals to eat when they’re not getting their subsidized school lunch and their snack at our afterschool program (which we also get from the food bank).
It’s important to me that these kids matter. Kids don’t just belong to their parents, you know? They belong to the community, the state, the country that produced them. The future of the world as a whole is wrapped up in their well-being, and it matters to me.
And they are great, great kids.
On a less serious note, I just love my job because when working with children one can do ridiculous things.
We decided to do a team building activity to celebrate the first day of fall (somewhat ridiculously, since the temperatures here in Virginia have been hovering right around 94).
Introducing the idea of a farm, we wanted to do a scarecrow clothes relay race (the first person on the team has to put on a complicated layered scarecrow costume, run the race, then run back and take off the getup and help the next person in line put it on).
Which was great, except, hello, nonprofit, we have no costumes.
So we made do. How INTENSELY SEXY ARE ME AND ERIN?!
Each costume had a “shirt” (paint-stained art smock), a “bib” (fabric scrap with a head hold cut in the middle), a “leg scarf” (another, longer fabric scrap; it was originally going to be a belt but we weren’t positive it’d fit everyone and didn’t want to create any weight trauma), and the piece de resistance, “fake bird wings to scare away the crow” (fairy wings).
I had my first apple (well other than the one I munched in the orchard!) after church today.
As usual arrived home ravenously hungry.
Sliced apple vair thinly, put in teensy baking dish (the picture’s of my mini countertop oven; adjust your perspective accordingly), sprinkled with scads of cinnamon and a wee bit of water to let everyone steam.
That was to serve as lunch dessert.
Actual lunch was… any guesses what hides in the interior of this warm pita?
Falafel! Homemade falafel from the church bazaar! I highly, HIGHLY recommend being a religion that is widespread in countries with delicious cuisine (Orthodox FTW- we get the Greeks, the Ethiopians, smatterings of the Middle East, etc. etc.)
Snarfed that down (wonderfully herbaceous, not at all greasy, and substantially enhanced by the pickled turnips alongside it. Yum!) and then sat down to dessert:
Baked apples that look like french fries. Score.