Garlic as a Metaphor for Learning

Last week, I harvested a year’s worth of garlic. Garlic takes about ten months to grow, so when it’s time to harvest, it feels like a wonderful, seasonal ritual. I have been growing garlic for over two decades, and in that time, I have proudly never bought any from a store. Growing garlic requires patience and faith that the result will be remarkable. It’s like cultivating learning- designing, developing, and delivering resources that challenge, inspire, and motivate over time. 

As I carefully extracted each head of garlic from the ground, shook off dirt and then trimmed the leaves and gangly roots, I thought how parallel some parts of the process are to what we at Sea Change do with learning design and delivery. Some garlic I placed on screens in a dark, dry garage to dry for future use and others made it into the house, lined up on our kitchen counter, prepped and ready to be dispersed to friends or for personal culinary adventures. It’s like learning resources and approaches that immediately create impact, and others that require patience and practice.

Growing garlic takes planning. In early fall, single cloves are placed in the ground, pointy side up, taking care to be sure there is plenty of space for each one to grow to maturity. The leaves on harvest day were over two feet long. Garlic needs plenty of water and sunshine. One of the hardest parts of growing garlic is the urge to pull it from the ground too soon. Even when it looks like they might be ready, the cloves need extra time to fill in before harvest.

With garlic, the yield isn’t anywhere near the amount of food you have from plants like kale, beans, or peas. Yet what garlic offers in terms of flavour and healing properties makes all the time and care worthwhile. It’s a long-term gardening relationship I’m willing to be a part of each year.

This week we are finishing up a training contract that we started back in April, so it’s been a solid four months of designing and developing learning resources. In all of our work, we aim to create innovative materials that cater to a variety of learning styles and include inquiry-based and actionable exercises in order to apply learning and gain feedback. We want learners to be problem solvers, question askers, poets, artists, and to feel like learning is fun!


Unlike the garlic that will be stored away for months until needed, we aim to create learning environments and materials that are immediately relevant and inspiring. But we also know that deeper learning reveals itself over time. As learners practice and pilot new approaches and models, that’s when changes in behaviour occur. Much like garlic, we are planting the seeds, covering the seeds with compost and mulch, and waiting to see the sprouts of growth months later, after a cold winter.

Like the recent garlic harvest, we are finalizing learning resources after months of work. And, of course, we’re choosing the biggest garlic seeds to re-plant this fall. We’re always learning about new technology and approaches and refining them to apply to future work.

freshly harvested garlic with roots attached and soil in roots