Alissa Pearce | Special to the Sun
I must say, I have the best job in the world. Being a garden teacher allows me to work in a beautiful outdoor “classroom” with 250 amazing young minds who are as eager to soak up what I have to teach them as they are the extra sunshine and exercise. We make our own measuring devices to log the weather, measure the garden beds to calculate cubic yards of compost needed to amend our soil, experiment with planting by the phases of the moon, sharpen our scientific drawing skills, and research cuisines from various regions of the world. In addition to the many learning opportunities, I have also found the garden to be a great equalizer. I always look forward to a question that stumps me and I get to answer, “I don’t know… but let’s find out!” I learn right along with the kids, and students of all levels are allowed to shine. Those students in need of a challenge are asked to delve deeper into topics that come up in the garden. Kids who have a hard time excelling in a classroom setting and are often pegged as “troublemakers” are consistently my best students. My class is an opportunity for their great qualities to be highlighted. In a recent conversation about the past, present, and future of school gardens in Sonoma, Kathleen Hill, local food writer and founder of the School Garden Project, relayed a similar experience:
“I actually got the idea visiting the Flowery garden for a story I wrote… when three little boys were sent to the garden for punishment and garden coordinator, Kate Ortelano, turned the experience to a positive and fun one. On the spot I decided we needed to do this at all of our schools, to enrich the lives of the kids and to teach them where vegetables and fruit come from and how to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
“It took a while… now we have kids giggling while planting, watering, picking and even preparing vegetables from their gardens. Our next steps are to get local chefs, led by John McReynolds of Stone Edge Farm, to work with the kids and our great food service staff to teach the students how to cook what they grow.”
Kathleen’s sentiments echoed my own reasons for getting involved. The more I work with other garden coordinators and community partners, the more common these anecdotes become. I used to hear things like, “We tried to plant a patch of wildflowers to attract the bees, but it was mowed down!” Now I get regular emails asking me to do things like “Please thank whomever decided to build us our new tool shed” or informing me that their son “first wants to be an army man… then a fire fighter… and on his off days he wants to be a garden teacher.”
These kids are listening and eager to learn. We garden teachers are full of ideas and ready to teach. Community members are on board and our school district wants to help. I encourage everyone to get involved in the School Garden Project because great things will be growing in our school gardens: delicious food, smart kids, and some budding agricultural entrepreneurs who will continue to help make our Sonoma Valley such a rich and wonderful place to live.
Alissa Pearce is the garden coordinator for Dunbar Elementary School and the curriculum coordinator for the School Garden Project, a program of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.