This week we spoke with Heather Gast, teacher and garden manager of the school garden at Weaverville Primary School.
What is the name of your garden/organization and where are you located?
I am a kindergarten and first grade teacher at Weaverville Primary School in Weaverville, NC. Our Garden is our class garden project and is located directly outside our classroom doors.
Can you tell us about the history / formation of your garden?
Before I returned to teaching four years ago, I worked at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in their children and family programing. GCPC has a long history with a very active community garden and I worked with Buzz Durham there on a children's garden. When I returned to teaching, Buzz and I decided to continue gardening with children in a different setting. We wrote a grant through the Buncombe County Schools Foundation and started working with the kids once a week in the garden plot.
We started the very first year with composting worms (thanks to the grant) as well as gardening. The children maintain the bins in addition to their weekly duties. Each year we have added a different component to the garden. The first year we built the raised beds together. We have added tire gardens and bag gardens, built a water tower, and this year, made take home gardens for our class of virtual learners (due to COVID).
How many people would you estimate get to eat the fruits and vegetables grown on the plot?
Each year we have approximately 20 children in a class. We send things home to the families as well, so I would say that around 80 people a year benefit from the garden. Of course, the beauty of that is the class changes each year, so we get to garden and share with 80 new people each season!
Tell us what a typical week looks like – what do you do? What do your members do?
Obviously, this has changed a bit this year with COVID....on a more typical year, we garden for an hour together every Thursday. Mr.Buzz comes to the school and we work on planting, building, caring, watering, harvesting, etc. depending on what is needed at that time. We put the kids into two or three small garden teams so that they can rotate outside to the garden area, work with our composting worms and update their journals as to what we are doing in our garden time that day.
This year, we were passionate about continuing the project but not quite sure how to do it well. My class is made up of completely virtual students that never come to the school building. We decided to make take home gardens for the children, which we did by getting local builders to donate used buckets, which we turned into container gardens. Each child picked up four buckets that were already filled with mixed soil with holes drilled ready to go. From there, we do a weekly Garden ZOOM where we have planted cabbage, lettuces, radishes and kale so far this year. The students drive by the garden spot to pick up plants and supplies as needed and they journal weekly by sending in pictures, drawings and writings about their progress.
One thing that has been positive this year is that my sister (who is also a teacher at WPS) has gardened with us with her class of kindergartners. Since we are on ZOOM it is easier to handler more kiddos and get them involved. While I've missed getting to do it all face to face this year, it has been a real gift to see the families get more involved with the project.
Say someone wanted to start a new community garden. What is your advice on how they might begin?
Take the jump! Start with some things that you know grow well...especially if children are involved...we want them to feel the success and joy of growing their own food!
Do you garden? What do you like to grow?
I do, but my school garden is much more successful!
(if yes) How and when did you become interested in growing plants?
Quite honestly, through this project. It has been such a gift to my students and their families as well as my soul! Obviously, the pride and excitement in the process is wonderful, but it is also great to have something that gets us outside of our normal routine!
How does acting as the Garden Coordinator compliment (or not) your day job?
I really just look at it as an extension of my daily teaching duties. The children learn so much from this project...not just the science of growing/living things...but teamwork, perseverance and leadership skills.
If folks are interested in supporting your gardens, what are your needs and how can they help?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We happily welcome committed volunteers to work with the kids and funding to get plants and supplies each year!