I come from a long line of farmers. For several generations, my family farmed the rich soil in the Central Ohio countryside to feed their community and family. My grandfather was very influential in my early years and taught me about the land and the plants that grew there. He was a huge fan of composting lawn waste and food scraps and was "organic" and “regenerative” minded before they coined those terms. He paid me 5 cents for each weed that I would pull (roots and all), and I always looked forward to working in the yard alongside him. It was there, that I learned many of my first lessons in gardening.
When I grew up, I followed my heart and love of children into the profession of teaching. As a teacher, I constantly looked for opportunities to connect learning objectives with the natural world and take my students outside. As luck would have it, when a group of parents wanted to start a school garden, they invited me to join in the committee work. When our program began to grow, I was able to retire from classroom life and work full time in the dirt. It dawned on me that this was my true passion, combining my love of teaching with the garden.
Moss Haven Farm is a non-profit on the campus of Moss Haven Elementary in Dallas, Texas. Our program has grown to include 25 raised beds, a large farm field where our 500 students grow and harvest food for the North Texas Food Bank, a chicken coop, compost area, native plant area, and a pocket prairie. All K-6 students receive weekly grade-level garden curriculum on our urban farm. Students use organic farming and gardening practices, which complement and inform their learning about ecology and biology in the classroom. These lessons encourage and foster understanding of living systems that we hope they will carry into the future and off the field.
Farming in the south gives us year-round opportunities to grow food, so our soil is always covered with crops, a major tenet of regenerative agriculture and Climate Victory Gardening. In January, we grow cool season food like garlic, onion, swiss chard, kale, turnips, beets, and carrots. In February, we plant potatoes. In mid-March, after the threat of a freeze, we put our tomatoes in the ground, and as we head into spring, okra, peppers, squash, eggplant, and field peas go in. Our students come alive on the farm, and it’s so fun to see them associating healthy food with the outdoors and the care it takes to nurture the plants
Just like in the days of my grandfather, many hands make light work. We have a Garden Team, who helps with funding, events, social media, and digging on workdays. Connecting with other organizations has helped with the sustainability of our program too. Our partners include Richardson ISD, Slow Food USA, American Heart Association, USDA, Dallas County Master Gardeners, North Texas Food Bank, Grow North Texas, and Bonnie Plants, as well as local service organizations and our community. Not only are these partnerships helpful, they’re a necessity for supporting our efforts to teach students, grow healthy food, and sequester carbon in our soils.
This year we are entering our 8th year at Moss Haven Farm. Our program has made an impact on everyone involved, from the little preschool groups who visit, to our students, staff, and parents. Through this experience, I have become involved in the local food system, working with the Farmers Market Friends, Slow Food DFW, and Grow North Texas. Slow Food USA has given me opportunities to represent the United States as an ambassador and learn from others around the world. Most recently, I was named Slow Food USA School Garden Co-Chair and work on policy, procedures, curriculum, and mentoring throughout the United States, pushing my reach and impact much farther than our school garden. It’s my goal to advocate for and teach the next generation about regenerative farming and gardening practices, so they can continue to grow food and inspire others, like my grandfather did.
School garden programs take an enormous amount of work and the average school garden in America only lasts about two years. Many factors play into this. It is relatively easy to get a garden up and growing, but maintenance is tricky. Teachers, who are the busiest people on the planet, do not have time to commit to keeping a garden alive but are an important piece of the program, since they are experts at curriculum and connecting it to the garden. We have found that a team effort is critical to keeping a garden program alive and well. If someone moves or is unavailable, there are several other team members who can lend a hand. Connecting a community this way, also builds buy-in and a support system that can lead a program to sustainability. This is all important because it increases the number of people involved in the stewardship and fostering of living, regenerative systems in their own backyards.
Changing the food system and improving the environment is a passion of mine, and I truly believe that educating the little ones is the way that we can change our broken systems to become more regenerative and resilient. Change happens in the garden, where children can physically experience the lessons we’re trying to teach and the values we’re encouraging. Hard work and fun combine here to inspire. I am believer in practices of regenerative agriculture. I work each day to teach and inspire my students to follow along, care for the earth, and each other.
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