Imagine this charge: write a blog post that integrates the mission of Catholic schools, Thanksgiving, and STEM education. Impossible you say? On the contrary…
The 2015-2016 school year marked the beginning of a new relationship with the Diocese of Peoria in Illinois. Although ACE has long had a connection to the diocese through its Holy Cross bishop, the Most Reverend Daniel Jenky, the presence of ACE Teaching Fellows in our neighboring state’s Catholic schools materialized only recently. Luke, Patty, Maddie, and Jimmy were welcomed into the school communities of Notre Dame High School and St. Mark elementary Catholic schools teaching theology, math, physics, Spanish, and all of the elementary subjects. We are grateful for the gifts that these young people bring to the classroom – maximizing students’ intellectual gifts and helping them become people who live the Gospel.
And so, if we had been tasked with a brief reflection on ways in which we are thankful for the products of and contributors to Catholic schools, we would be finished, ready to enjoy that Thanksgiving feast. But our task is more complex. How can we tie our gratitude for Catholic schools to both the holiday spirit and to STEM education? For that, we have to know a little more about pumpkins.
A pumpkin, as you may or may not be aware, is a type of squash plant native to North America. Contrary to common thought, a pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable, as the pumpkin houses the plant’s seeds (even more technically, it is a berry since the pumpkin is derived from the plant’s ovary). The history of pumpkins is long in North America, with evidence of pumpkin seeds dating from between 7,000 and 5,500 BC in Mexico.
While there is the jack-o-lantern, the pumpkin spice latte, and pumpkin soup, I think that we can all agree on the greatest gift the pumpkin has bequeathed – the pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie found its way to the Thanksgiving banquet table during colonial years. In 1705, a Connecticut town even postponed Thanksgiving a week because they were lacking the necessary ingredients to make the pumpkin pies. Throughout the 1800’s the devotion to this delicacy grew considerably, marked in time by Lydia Maria Child’s poem about a New England Thanksgiving in which a family travels “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” in order to exclaim in the final stanza, “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”
But from where are all of these pumpkins coming? Along with giving thanks to God each year for the fruits of all creation, whose hands help produce this wonderful fruit? To find our answer we circle back to the beginning – the hands of the people of Peoria. We would never have the smooth, rich flavor of pumpkin pie if it wasn’t for this fertile crescent of squash growers. An astonishing 90% of all pumpkins grown in the United States are grown within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois.
To put this into perspective, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana are the top corn producers in the United States and yet combined, they produce approximately 57% of corn in the United States. So hats off to you, Peoria, Illinois, and your 90% production of our nation’s pumpkins. As I sit down to the Thanksgiving feast this year, I can be grateful for the partnership of ACE and the Diocese of Peoria in the service of teaching children in Catholic schools, knowing that perhaps within their science and math classes are the students who will ensure the health, procurement, and distribution of pumpkins for many Thanksgivings to come.