The Parable of the Empty Harvest

Editors Note:  We are so excited to have Donna Goff join our writers!  She is a wealth of knowledge and experience.  You can find her at Moor House Academy and Royal Academy.  


There once was a farmer that lived on the outer edge of a small city. Each summer, he would plant his fields in corn. The people in the city loved his corn. His acreage was quite large. It was too difficult to grow many different types of crops. So, he chose to specialize in growing corn. He had to use large farm machinery and a commercial irrigation system to get all of the work done. He built a large barn to store his machinery in. His farm was efficient. He always had a good crop for the summer farmer's market in the city.

To the west of this farm was a small neighborhood. A certain man from that neighborhood was out for a walk one day. He viewed the beautiful corn plants, in nicely spaced rows. This man decided right then and there, that he would start a garden. Inspired by the lovely corn fields, this man went off to the city to purchase all of the needed supplies and equipment. He went to a hardware store and purchased small scale farm equipment to set up a small corn farm in his back yard. Then he went to a plant nursery and bought a bag of the same kind of corn seed and chemicals that the farmer used. The man went home and got to work. First, he tore out the velvety green lawn in his back yard and tilled the earth. He installed an automatic water irrigation system, and set it on a timer. He planted his corn and felt very happy. He could almost taste the corn! He was now a "new gardener."

This "new gardener" took another walk on one of those fine sunny days, which so often graced his community.

He walked pass his neighbor to the south. The neighbor's gate was open and his neighbor waved to him, and bid him to come. When he got to his neighbor's back yard, he saw the most colorful and bountiful garden he had ever seen. It was not planted in rows. Instead, it was planted in neat little square-foot garden of grow boxes. The neighbor had 64 corn plants growing in a 4 x 4 foot square. They were a short season corn that produced two ears of corn per stalk. The neighbor had a salad garden, lined and intermingled with flowers and herbs. The neighbor had a canning garden, with trellised tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and colorful peppers. This neighbor's bountiful garden was beginning to come into harvest. This was the garden that fed his neighbor's small family, quite well. They had no expensive equipment. They hand watered from five gallon buckets that they had let sit out all day, so they would not shock the plants with either chlorine or cold water. There were not that many weeds, because the square foot gardener had made his own soil. The few weeds that did grow were almost effortlessly snipped of with scissors. They composted and rebuilt the soil. Now this made our "new gardener" excited. The "new gardener" went home and yanked up his all of his corn plants, then put his tools and sprinkler system in the shed. He then went out to purchase all he needed to set up a square foot system in his back yard. The "new gardener" came home, built the grow boxes, and then planted his seeds. The "new gardener" was proud of all the pretty boxes.

In July, the "new gardener" took another walk. He saw that the farmer had lovely knee high corn. The "new gardener" went walking through his neighborhood. The "new gardener" was weary. When he had looked at his neighbor's square foot garden; it looked so beautiful and easy. His plants did not look as good as his neighbor to the south. His neighbor and his wife to the south had two children and managed their garden without much effort. The "new gardener" and his wife had seven children. He had planted more grow boxes than his neighbor to the south to provide for his larger family. The hand watering was hard to keep up on, and the clipping of weeds from stray weeds, had fallen behind. 

Then the "new gardener" walked by his neighbor to the north. The neighbor to the north had a medium size family. So, the "new gardener" peeked over the fence.

There was a greenhouse in his back yard! This neighbor to the north used a hydroponics system. No weeds! Food year around! The "new gardener" knew that this was the answer. He ran home full of hope. Yes, you guessed it! He pulled out his entire square foot system; plants and all! He put all of the parts in the shed. He went into town and purchased a large green house. He went to the hardware store and bought more tools. He went to the garden shop and bought liquid plant food and seeds. He went home and set the whole operation into action. Boy, was it impressive! He was joyful and full of hopeful anticipation.

In August the "new gardener" took another walk. Oh my! The farmer to the east had harvested his corn and took it to market. The square foot gardener was getting his third crop in. His greenhouse neighbor had a lush garden. The "new gardener" was tired.

The greenhouse had proven to be too much work, as well; measuring nutrients, watching the temperature, opening and closing vents. What was our "new gardener" to do? He then noticed his neighbor to the west. That neighbor had a huge family and a wonderful garden. 

The neighbor to the west had long raised beds, covered with fabric mulch to keep the weeds away, and a drip irrigation system. He fed his plants colloidal minerals in a water solution. These in deed were healthy plants. The "new gardener" thought," no weeds, large plants, no watering hassles (it is on a timer), almost no work!" "This has got to be the best system ever devised!" he thought. So, home he went. Down came the greenhouse. The shed was full, so he stacked everything outside. Out came all of the plants too. Back into town he went. Home he came with everything he needed. He worked long and hard. Finally, everything was planted. He could rest now. The plants would practically grow themselves.

Harvest time came, but not for our "new gardener." While his neighbors all picked a method and worked it with consistency, our "new gardener" had been unwise. Ever looking for something better, he was always changing to a better method. The winter came and he had nothing to harvest. His shed was full of partially used equipment. His plants were too young to harvest. He had spent all his time, money and energy trying to have the best garden. To make matters worse, he was impatient and had tried to rush things. He poured a whole season's worth of fertilizer on the garden one day. He did not have time to get the water going. So, he decided he would work out that automatic system on Saturday. He could flood it then, to make up with the lack of watering. After all, it worked in the orient for their rice paddies. Well, he burned the crop and then drowned it. He was left with an empty harvest; and he was sad.

Are we like this unwise gardener?


Everyone can see how foolish the "new gardener" was. Each system he tried would have worked had he stayed with it. All would have yielded a harvest. Perhaps some harvests would have been better than others; but they all would have had a harvest. 

The farmer represents mass schooling systems. To teach enormous groups of children they use a one size fits all education. Many home school families following this model have actually had better success then the schools themselves do.

The square foot gardener represents the Classics Mentorial Approach or Leadership Education. The harvest from this method is very fine. This approach can be used even with larger families. It takes time and dedication to implement.

The greenhouse was the private schools.  This also yields a fine harvest.

The raised bed gardener represented a living education like Charlotte Mason. Again, like the other methods it too yields a harvest.

Many of us jump from method to method. We have accumulated rooms of "buyer’s remorse." We could free ourselves from guilt and sell it all on the internet :) 'Big doors swing on small hinges.'Consistently applied effort in any of these methods will bring a glad harvest. We need to take stock. We need to weigh out the options; then choose wisely the materials and methods to use. The Charlotte Mason method helps you eat the elephant on bite at a time, as I also feel Leadership Education does. They both can cover the typical school subjects and more, and in the way children naturally learn. Both can be taught one-on-one, or in a group.  I find that they can both be used together, or rather that Charlotte Mason ideas can be used in a Leadership Education context. I find this very freeing. 

You need to choose what system works best with you and your family, and then consistently do it. There is a tendency for some people to not stay long enough with the model they have chosen and may not do the needed study to fully implement the model. This may be because the model requires more effort to fully understand, and that one may have unrealistic expectations. We also have got to stop this perfectionistic craziness of always looking for the best curriculum. I understand we want the best we can provide for our children. Perfect curriculum does not exist. Educational theories are in constant change. We need to see that we will never harvest, if we cannot consistently apply anything. We need the discipline of habit and patience or the ability to delay gratification.

Nature walk and Wild Day Time (science)! Story Time (literature and character development)! Crazy Day Time (Field trips and inspiration)! Do school each day. The sanity you save may be your own. Do not try to catch up. Catch up to what? Learning is a continuum. Trying to cram learning will only drown and burnout your tender children. Just place one foot in front of the other and keep, consistently moving forward.

Remember that the tortoise learned that slow and steady wins the race. If you keep moving in the right direction it is amazing what little bites here and little bites there will accomplish. Those little bites add up and the sum total can be more than you can imagine.