From Slavery to Freedom Garden: Lesson Confronting the Past to Heal the Future

This anti-racist garden lesson will invite students to explore the personal narratives of enslaved peoples through exploring their own personal narratives and relationship to the land. Learning to identify edible and medicinal plants while addressing topics of sustainability and environmental justice are at the core of this lesson and experience.​​ Race and inequality will be openly addressed, and teachers will receive tools to help promote the facilitation of these conversations in the classroom. ​​​
  • As an instructor, Acknowledge your perspective and background, i.e., whiteness or blackness or any perspective. We all have different perspectives. We are all coming at this as unique people. We may disagree, have different feelings. That is ok. We are here to express those and share with others so that we can form new ideas and have new understandings.  
  • Include a land acknowledgement that includes indigenous acknowledgment as well as acknowledgement of the unknown black and brown enslaved peoples that helped to build the industrial and agricultural economies, and history of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. Many of those stories have not been told.
Learning to identify edible and medicinal plants while addressing topics of sustainability and environmental justice are at the core of this lesson and experience.​​

OBJECTIVES

  • Students will create a personal definition of freedom.
  • Students will understand that enslaved people had knowledge of the land and nature and used that knowledge to gain personal freedom.
  • Students will explore how knowledge of nature can empower and create agency and explore how to take ownership of their own knowledge.
  • Students will learn to identify plants that helped enslaved peoples to survive.
  • Upon completing the lesson, students will be able to identify:
    • One plant that can be used for food
    • One plant that can be used for medicine
    • One plant that identifies water sources

materials

  • From Slavery to Freedom microsite  ​
  • Gardening gloves (OPTIONAL)
  • Permanent Markers (OPTIONAL)

LESSON OUTLINE

  • Group Discussion (15 mins) 
  • Garden Exploration (15 mins) 
  • Plant ID Hike (45 mins)
  • Reflection (15 min) 

GROUP DISCUSSION

A group discussion is important for setting the foundation of the lesson and establishing trust within the group. Arrange your students into a circle where everyone can see one another. Actively set up and encourage a culture that nurtures respectful discussion. Here are some tips.

​​The greatest act of resistance to slavery was to run away.​ Explain to your students that they are at the Frick Environmental Center today to discuss and explore the connections that enslaved people in America had to the environment, and how the knowledge of the outdoors helped them to attain personal sovereignty.

GUIDING QUESTIONS


Some of these questions can be asked in the large group others can be used to discuss with partners later while hiking. The instructor may include other broad questions to ask, depending on the background of the group i.e., school group vs. OST group .
In order to survive their journey, freedom seekers needed knowledge and understanding of the land. This knowledge and skill often goes unacknowledged.
  • What does the word slavery mean?
  • What does the word freedom mean to you?
  • How did freedom seekers survive their journey?
  • What knowledge and skills must they have had?
  • Why would a Parks Conservancy have a" From Slavery to Freedom Garden"?​
  • What are the ways that you can gain self-liberation? Do you need liberation from something? ​

In order to survive their journey, freedom seekers needed knowledge and understanding of the land. This knowledge and skill often goes unacknowledged.

 

A group discussion at the FEC
A group discussion is important for setting the foundation of the lesson and establishing trust within the group.

EXPLORATION OF THE GARDEN

Enslaved freedom seekers used their knowledge of plants and nature to survive in the wild on their way to freedom, as well as to survive once they reached safe areas in the north. The garden reflects both significant wild plants and home grown plants found in a typical garden bed.
Students will have 5 minutes to explore the garden with a partner.
Make them aware that as they explore they should be on the lookout for:
  • One plant they recognize
  • One plant they do not recognize

When time is up, call the students back and have them share what they found. Which plants did they recognize and which did they not recognize? For plants that students do not recognize, see if the groups collective knowledge can identify it first before revealing what a plant is. ​

From Slavery To Freedom Garden 2019 Urban Pathways Fourth Grade Students Plants Magnifiers Observing Exploring 2

PLANT ID HIKE

Each student receives a plant ID guide. Before starting, it is important to note and explain to students that while they will be looking for and identifying several wild edible plant, it is important not to eat what they find unless with a wild edibles expert.

​You'll begin with two plants that can be found right on the lawn of the Environmental Center.

A dandelion is a plant that most students have prior knowledge of. Have students walk the front lawn and try and find a dandelion. Once one is found, have a student look up what dandelions can be used for, and share with the group. Dandelions have many edible and medicinal uses. ​

Next, challenge students to fan out over the lawn to find a plantain plant. Once found, have the students look up what a plantain plant can be used for. This is a medicinal plant. Plantain can be chewed up into a paste and used to soothe stings and bites.​

Students will next follow the instructor on a hike onto a trail to find other plants in their Plant ID Guide. The instructor should scout out the area ahead of time to plan the route and see what is there.

Encourage students to try and find the plants on their own. Allow students to work in pairs or individually. At the instructor's discretion, students may use their phones and internet as resources for plant ID and info. We suggest the app iNaturalist to help identify plants. Students can "collect" plants by taking a photo of them.

This hike is also a time for guided conversation prompts with a walking partner.

  • What do living things need to survive?
  • How do the plants and animals in the wild get those things to survive?
  • How can  wild survival skills be learned and passed on? ​
dandelions in the spring
A dandelion is  a plant that most students have prior knowledge of. Have students walk the front lawn and try and find a dandelion. Once one is found, have a student look up what dandelions can be used for, and share with the group. Dandelions have many edible and medicinal uses. ​

REFLECTION

Arrange the group back in a circle. The Frick Environmental Center has a stump circle located at the top of Clayton hill that serves as a good space for reflecting.

A creative outlet is helpful for channeling and processing tough emotions during reflection in a group. We suggest, a coloring or drawing activity while discussing. When Frick Environmental Center staff facilitate this lesson, they allow students to decorate their own pair of gardening gloves with permanent markers while reflecting. They can then take the gloves home.

​Students will create a personal definition of sovereignty, understand that enslaved people had knowledge of the land and nature and used that knowledge to gain personal freedom. Ask what Sovereignty means. Students will explore how to take ownership of their own knowledge, and how knowledge of nature can empower and create agency.

Ask students to reflect on the experience they just had by asking the following reflection questions:

  • ​Did anything surprise you about what we did or what you learned today?
  • ​How do you feel about the knowledge that enslaved people had to have in order to survive? ​
  • ​Do you think that you could survive on the run for months at a time in the wild?
  • What is one way that you can share what you learned today?
  • ​How do you feel about knowing that many of the survival stories that people had  were never told or recorded?
  • ​Why are we unaware of these stories today?
  • Why is it important to talk about this untold side of enslaved people's experiences?
Students will explore how to take ownership of their own knowledge, and how knowledge of nature can empower and create agency.
Students will explore how to take ownership of their own knowledge, and how knowledge of nature can empower and create agency.

LESSON EXTENSION

Have students read some of the first-hand narratives of slaves.
​Ask students to reflect on these narratives, reflect on their experience, and create their own fictional account of a freedom seeker's survival story.

Consider planning your field trip to the From Slavery To Freedom Garden along with a visit to the Heinz History Center.