As tributes highlighting the remarkable life of Muhammad Ali are shared, we wanted to take a moment to remember the contributions made by the Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant Program. From 2011 to 2014, The Muhammad Ali Center in cooperation with KidsGardening and Yum! Brands Foundation, awarded 200 grant packages to youth garden programs around the world. Integrating the Muhammad Ali Center’s core principles of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, spirituality and giving, Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens were designed to help schools teach students lessons about peace and hunger awareness through garden activities. The grants provided $100,000 in funding and reached an estimated 20,000 youth in 21 different countries including Belarus, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States. The reach of the program was wide and the impact great – what a wonderful legacy to inspire a new generation of gardeners to learn how to take care of the Earth and each other!
Grant winner, Annie Xiong, from Minnesota shared, “the gardening program had a huge impact on the children in our community. They were really excited to establish a garden because most had never grown their own vegetables or fruits! The students were also excited to touch dirt and experience what it is like to plant and harvest. The students in our program were at-risk youths and children of immigrants. Many did not have the same opportunities as other children in the community. To have the garden available to them significantly impacted their lives. The children were able to learn about gardening and having that space give them a sense of ownership. The garden program has been a way to strengthen relationships with one another and the greater community.”
You can continue the work begun by the Muhammad Ali Center and plant the seeds of peace by installing your own Peace Garden. Here are a few examples of lessons you could teach through a Peace Garden Program:
Since different types of crops are grown by each culture, edible gardens are a great tool to teach about and celebrate our diversity. Gardens planted with cultural awareness in mind offer much more than just a delicious harvest, you can teach your students about the concept of peace by providing opportunities for them to practice communication skills, learn about and accept others, and understand the interconnectedness of people, plants, and our planet. Begin by discovering the horticultural crops consumed by the different cultures represented in your area. You can focus on historical connections or present use. Uncover these foods through community interviews, student food journals, or visits to local ethnic farmers’ markets. You may choose to focus on one culture each growing season or if you have plenty of space, plant a garden select a few crops representing each ethnic group.
The Importance of Diversity
A garden planted with one species quickly becomes a target for pests and disease. Planting a variety of plants and rotating crops to new locations each season, helps keep pest populations in check. Some plants grow so well together that they are referred to as garden companions. Talking about the benefits of diversity in the garden, can serve as a segue to discuss the benefits of diversity in our communities and how each individual and each culture contributes in their own way.
Competition for Resources
In the garden, plants compete for their basic needs including space, water, sunlight and nutrients. By comparing plants grown properly spaced to plants grown too close together, students can observe how competition for resources impacts plant growth and health. You can use this as a springboard for discussing how competition for resources affects human behavior and fuels conflict.
Growing edible plants opens the door for discussions about proper nutrition and food insecurity. Your young gardeners can grow extra produce to donate to hunger relief efforts to empower them by showing how their efforts can help solve a community problem.
As young gardeners learn they must be gentle with their plants to allow them to mature and produce fruit, they are learning the importance of showing respect for living things. They can clearly see the positive results of nurturing their plants and providing for their needs and what happens when the plants are neglected or damaged. Help them connect the similarities between plants and people. People who are respected and nurtured are also able to grow to their maximum potential and bear ‘fruit.’
For additional ideas on how you can promote peace through your garden program, download an archived copy of the Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Activity Guide.