cosas que puedes hacer con Cajas de Cartón, parte 2

Environment and sense of place  Environment, climate and geography play an out-sized role in the lives of Panchito’s family, and others like them, by  pushing them towards new places as single crops planted in large scale for the national market ripen in succession.  This may seem obvious, however those who grew up in urban and suburban settings with supermarkets full of strawberries year-round may be disconnected from this process and benefit from a trip outside.

Vocabulary from the story can be recycled to compare growing seasons for strawberries, grapes and cotton.  If you live in California, you can check if the seasons are still roughly the same.  Outside of California, you can compare these seasons with your own.  It’s helpful to include planting, duration of season and harvest time in these comparisons.  In New Jersey, for example, strawberries are a late spring/early summer crop and are in season for only a few short weeks.  Students can also be assigned a trip to the grocery store over a weekend to note the origins of fruits and vegetables being sold (law requires labeling of country of origin).  Why are there so many different origins?  What else does this variety of origins tell us?

imagesIf you’re lucky enough to have a school garden, I recommend a visit.  We tend to read this story in Spanish 3 at the end of September, sometimes at the beginning of October, but usually before the first real frost. Here are two garden activities I’ve done that, all together, take about a 50 minute class period.

In the school garden we have a long row of strawberry plants along a fence and, on occasion, we can find several cotton plants growing in a bed.  Maybe you have access to some grape vines.  Many of my students have trouble imaging what a day might be like for Panchito and think he might, in some respects, have it easy (no school, yay!).  Others might have never actually seen the plants that produce these fruits.  So we examine the physical characteristics of the plants (large or small, tall or short, etc.), note whether or not they’re “in season” and then imagine that we’re harvesting.  In order to pick (pizcar) the strawberries, for example, it’s necessary to crouch down.  Of course, you can’t stay in one place, you also have to move along the row.  I try to get them to role-play this (I’m Ito) for about 5 minutes, though they usually don’t last that long, especially if it’s a warm, sunny day.  We return to the beginning of the story and I have them do the math to calculate how many hours per week Panchito spends picking strawberries.  This also might be a good moment to reflect on how the workers are paid.  There’s evidence in the story, for example, when papá is in the vineyard adding up the quantity of grapes they’ve picked.  Apparently they’re not paid per hour, but their income is based on how fast they can fill the boxes-regardless of weather conditions or other factors.

Although New Jersey isn’t known for cotton production (the plants need a long, warm growing season), our garden teacher has managed to coax a few plants to maturity and has even harvested a few of the pods.  In the story Panchito doesn’t pick cotton because he’s too young, but Roberto and his papá do.  Students can reflect on the differences in seasons (compared to strawberries and grapes), height of the plants and body position necessary to harvest the pods.  We have a few mature pods saved from previous years and we pass these around the class.  When mature, the pods become stiff and sharp, making it difficult (and sometimes painful) to pull out the cotton. The seeds grow inside the fluffy part of the cotton and can be felt, but not seen, unless it’s cut or pulled apart.  Since we don’t have any grape vines, I rely on photographs showing people harvesting the bunches.

Another garden activity that can help students situate themselves in their local environment is a scavenger hunt.  They work in pairs and first on their list is to walk around the garden and come up with 4-5 fruits and vegetables that are in season, and 4-5 fruits and vegetables that are out of season.  Most of the beds in the garden are labeled in English, Spanish, Chinese and French, so it’s possible for them to identify plants that don’t currently have fruits or vegetables.  (For those plants without labels in Spanish, I go out before class and put notecards next to or on the plants).  For the second part of the scavenger hunt, students need to find the herbs that I listed in Spanish on their sheet and pick a couple leaves:  one to bring back and one to taste.  They note their reactions on the paper.  When we gather back together students share their  experiences and some describe how they use these herbs in cooking or for teas.  On a good day, we make tea with some of the herbs.  For students with little experience seeing food outside of packages, these simple activities can be memorable.

Digging deeper. To paraphrase Andrew Marvell, if you have world enough and time to let your vegetable love grow (that is what he meant, isn’t it?), you could plant a bed with your class.  The class could work in pairs or small groups, research a plant, including growing season, space needs, even nutritional value, taste, use, etc., and then propose it.  Which of the plants proposed can be planted together?  Which can’t?  Why?

This also might be a good moment to explore which plants, vegetables and fruits are native to your region and which are not.  Also, what is the impact of large, monoculture agribusiness on the local environment (or even on the plants themselves)?

This leads to the next theme I hope to cover in cosas que puedes hacer con Cajas de Cartón, parte 3:  interconnectedness.

About sustainabilityandspanish

Spanish teacher and accidental environmentalist.
This entry was posted in A Sense of Place, Environment & Ecology, Quality of Life, Rights & Solidarity, Sustainable Economics & Consumption and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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