For the fourth year in a row, students from UMass Boston dedicated a week of their winter vacation to a service learning experience with Plenitud. During this Alt break trip, the volunteers participated in a wide range of projects that directly serve Plenitud's mission of sharing knowledge. At our teaching center in Las Marias, the UMB group updated garden areas, provided key maintenance to agroforestry swales, harvested vermicompost, divided and propagated functional grass species for later planting, and dug and planted a biological mulch basin and berm system to process, infiltrate, and reuse the “greywater” from a new outdoor showerhouse under construction. And they did a whole lot more service in many forms, from harvesting and processing various crops and fruits to spending quality time sharing a morning with some local elderly folks at a day center.
At every step of the way, we presented the students with loads of information relevant to each task, from the theoretical foundation to design considerations to methods to troubleshooting and potential variations. They were living walking talking sponges, learning not just how to harvest vermicompost but also how to design and construct a simple system to process their food scraps. In order to help propagate functional grasses, one must learn the proper asexual propagation techniques and the basics of container growing and nursery care. If you want to start processing and reusing some of the greywater from your household for garden irrigation, you have to first learn the basic principles of water management and the key considerations and potential hazards of greywater.
In this format of experiential learning, the task at hand is also the curriculum. The garden that nourishes the body with food and medicine also stimulates the mind of the student. The setting of our lives becomes the living laboratory where we learn and grow together, no real distinction between the student and the teacher. The passion, interest, and wide range of experiences that the Umass group brings year after year to Plenitud reminds us that we all have a lot to share with each other, more than we realize. Sharing a week with new friends also reminds us anew about how much we have to learn about life from each other. Thank you to the UMass crew!