The Right People Make All the Difference

ImageWhen our landscape designer Julie Green and I thought about building a community garden and edible classroom on campus, we were inspired by The Edible Schoolyard Project founded by California chef Alice Waters. Waters believed that a school-based garden and teaching kitchen could enrich curriculum and we wanted to create a link between our EA Farm Direct Program and our classrooms. The idea took on increasing energy when we put the concept for the garden out to the faculty. Julie and I were not certain who would be interested and were overwhelmed by teachers in the Lower, Middle, and Upper divisions who wanted plots. We had Lower School homeroom teachers who wanted a pumpkin patch and science teachers in all divisions eager to show the whole growth process from seed to harvest. Classics teachers were ready to plant Greek herbs and English teachers wanted a Shakespearean garden they could sit in with their classes.

With the interest secured, we put the deer fence up, built raised beds, and planted in the spring. Like many start-up projects, the first year was heavy on ideas and lighter on follow through. We had not exactly sorted out summer maintenance, the garden was under a thistle attack, and we hadn’t found the right person or persons to lead the effort.

ImageAnd then we got really lucky. Joe Bayer was hired as a full-time horticulturalist and Lisa Turner was hired as an English teacher in the Upper School. A California native, Lisa shares a passion for gardening and teaching and was inspired by the same edible classroom ideas that were the inspiration for our garden. Lisa and I were meeting to discuss what additional duties she would like to take on beyond her four classes and it quickly became obvious she should be the guru of the garden. Joe Bayer loved the idea of the garden and wanted to develop part of it as a nursery for flowers, shrubs, and trees that would be planted around campus.

Joe and Lisa prove that when passion, energy, and skill come together great things are possible. The garden now has a 1000-gallon cistern to capture rainwater from the roof of the maintenance building, 16 raised beds that are all being used, a nursery area for shrubs and trees, and an herb-cutting garden for the community. Lisa, Joe and a small cadre of others are raising egg-laying chickens that do a lot of good fertilizing and eating insects like ticks. We are in the process of installing a commercial composter behind our cafeteria to capture food waste and turn it into compost for the garden and campus.

In addition to regular classes and homerooms coming to the garden, Lisa joined forces with the after-care program to provide Lower School children with an opportunity to learn about plants, plant care or gardening. Lisa told me that this summer with the help of several teacher-gardener volunteers, we donated over 20 pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries. This year we will receive donated seeds from High Mowing Organic Seed Company–including seeds that will be donated to our sister school in Haiti. Now my favorite memory of the season was seeing Lisa dressed as the Thistle Witch stirring up the young hands to dig up every thistle in the garden.