With age, we must grow. As people, as a community, and as inhabitants of this earth. 

I’ve noticed before that volunteers at various organizations tend to fall into two relative age groups: college students attempting to pad their resume, and retired folks looking for anything to fill their bulk of free time. At least, that’s how I viewed it for some time.

I’m a college kid, definitely attempting to pad my resume before my dreaded graduation next May, but that’s not why I do what I do. I really care about doing work that has a positive ripple effect on those around me: it’s why this summer has been so enjoyable to me. And at the garden I’ve been spending most of my time, it’s been pretty solitary work. Rewarding, but solitary. The only human interaction out there, in the middle of the battlefield, is a handful of retirees every so often. For the most part, I’ve looked at them as individuals who just need somewhere to spend their time and energy. But, as I’ve figured out, that really isn’t the case.

The primary coordinator of the garden, a recently retired nurse with little previous gardening experience, grinned as she handed me a pamphlet on upcoming courses at our local Agricultural Center. A volunteer walks slowly through the gate, upturning a bucket before a row of beans, eases himself down to harvest some beans, careful of the stitches on his stomach from a recent surgery. Another is poring over the tomatoes, strict concentration on her face as she searches eagerly for suckers to pull. Weekly, update e-mails go out to all of the ten or so volunteers, and there is a small flood of excited responses, happy to hear about the week’s harvest and where it all went: the food pantry, the campus kitchen, the Gleaning Project, you name it. 

Although they are retired, and although they do have a newfound increase in free time, they are not simply doing this because they need to stuff their schedule to decrease the chance of boredom. They are doing this because they now have the luxury to act on what they care about. This community around them, either newly welcoming or a long-time supporter of their endeavors, is something they are passionate about. Retirement simply gave them the opening to allow them to give back. In addition to that, it is their time spent on earth that lends to them new eyes through which to see the world around them. The magnificence of all the people and plants – and even the voles who keep snacking on our tomatoes – is testified to by these volunteers each time they step in the garden. With the growth of those around them – volunteers, critters, and plants – they, too, grow, and learn, and continue to evolve into something more than they were before.

Who says learning only happens in the classroom?

Jade Kling ’17