KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
SOPHIE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: For me, it feels like we live in an age where you look on the news and it just feels like everything is going wrong. And so gardening feels like a small way we can have some actual tangible, positive impact on the world around us. Like, in a world where it's easy to feel like everything is just falling apart, it's a small way to actually see progress.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, it's Back-to-School, Part II. We talk with high school students and educators about what their school gardens mean to them. Stay with us.
KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young.
KAYTE YOUNG: If you heard the episode featuring Kendall Slaughter and the Ag School in Springfield, Missouri, then you can think of this episode as part two We talked a lot about what can be gained by bringing gardening, agriculture and cooking to kids in a classroom. And I waxed on about my desire to see a garden in every school, and school garden programs implemented and supported at the district level. In that episode, we were looking at an elementary school. This time we're moving to the high school level. We are, again, in Springfield, Missouri, in the public school system, the one that has a farm-to-school coordinator to assist with school garden projects. They don't have a garden at every school yet, but they do have one at Glendale High School where my friend, Justine, teaches biology. I stopped by on a spring afternoon when the sky was threatening rain.
KAYTE YOUNG: When I arrived, students were trickling out of the building and headed towards an area with all the signs of a school garden. Grounding the space is a substantial hoop house or high tunnel structure, surrounded by raised beds planted with flowers and herbs and vegetables in various stages of growth. I noticed wooden plant markers with the words radishes or peas hand-lettered in colorful paints across the front. The paths are lined with wood chips. A wire grid arches between two beds, waiting for climbing vines later in the season. The space is inviting and well cared for.
JUSTINE LINES: Everybody will have jobs, okay? Come on over. If you want to bring the seeds and the bag.
KAYTE YOUNG: Justine soon joins the team leadersand starts assigning tasks to groups.
JUSTINE LINES: Have you got it? Come on over and let's go ahead and pick our jobs.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Huh, we've got sun.
JUSTINE LINES: Okay, you guys, this first bed right here, we brought lots of flowers out.
JUSTINE LINES: Hey, look, nice carrots.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: They just, like, copped out.
JUSTINE LINES: Did they?
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: I was trying to pull weeds.
JUSTINE LINES: All right. Those are nice carrots. We'll have to wash them and then see how they do. Even small carrots are really beautifully sweet, you know. So, yes, absolutely.
JUSTINE LINES: So, you guys, we need to finish weeding this and then getting it planted. I thought we would put some dahlias and some wild flowers out here. Anybody want to jump in on that task? You guys last time were working on, was it that bed?
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: That one right there.
JUSTINE LINES: That one? So, we got that all planted. Yes. So, we have to finish weeding this bed and that bed.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: We can do this bed.
JUSTINE LINES: Okay, you got it. This is our flower bed. So, there's lots of flowers in the seed container over there.
KAYTE YOUNG: As the students gathered around Justine for job assignment, someone noticed a spider crawling around on a cinder block, landing in one of the garden beds.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Oh, there's a black widow right here.
JUSTINE LINES: Is there? What do you see?
KAYTE YOUNG: But not just any spider. This was a black widow.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, don't touch it!
JUSTINE LINES: They like these cinder blocks.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: [SCREAMS].
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: No snatching. You don't snatch that, guys.
KAYTE YOUNG: I don't think I've ever seen one in real life. They're large, black and shiny with eight elegant legs, and that notorious red bow shape stamped on their underbelly.
JUSTINE LINES: We have oftentimes found black widows, but they've never caused a problem.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Where is it?
JUSTINE LINES: It just went down here.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!
KAYTE YOUNG: I gathered that Justine is used to interruptions and distractions, both dramatic and mundane. She rolled with the venomous spider sighting and carried on with the task at hand, which was getting some garden maintenance in before the storm hit.
JUSTINE LINES: Okay, you guys are on wood chip duty.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: All right.
JUSTINE LINES: The entrances need wood chip, and this entrance right here behind that gate. Okay? We also need a couple more loads of that finished compost over there. So why don't you get either the green wheelbarrow or the other one, and as they finish weeding right here, spread the compost as we go through.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: All right. Let's get it
JUSTINE LINES: All right.
KAYTE YOUNG: The black widow was understandably a serious distraction. Everyone wanted to see it.
JUSTINE LINES: Clarisse, it's right there.
CLARISE, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Oh, my God.
JUSTINE LINES: They mostly are really reclusive. I've never heard of anybody with a black widow bite here, because they're so reclusive. People are so scared of them, but they help control your insects. Yes, they're great.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: That's really cool.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Big black widow.
JUSTINE LINES: Yes.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: You should come and see my garden.
JUSTINE LINES: The finished compost?
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: We also need to pick our lettuce too.
JUSTINE LINES: Okay.
STUDENT, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Because our lettuce is pretty big.
JUSTINE LINES: We can either work on weeding that one bed. That bed right there needs to just finish up being weeded. If you all just go and pull some weeds there, that would be good.
KAYTE YOUNG: I wanted to see inside the high tunnel, which Justine said had just been refurbished after more than ten years of use.
JUSTINE LINES: We went for ten or 11 years with the same plastic on top.
KAYTE YOUNG: Impressive.
JUSTINE LINES: I know. Usually, it's just rated for four years. So, last year, though, we had a super high wind and I came out here and it was just flapping in the wind. And so, when I came out and saw that the wind, the final big blast, had ripped a little and then it had caught and ripped more, it was like, you know, we got a lot of use out of that plastic. So we replaced the side walls last year and we replaced the plastic on top. But otherwise, it has served us well since 2011.
KAYTE YOUNG: Amazing.
JUSTINE LINES: Yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: She also informed me that this was her last season with the Glendale garden. Justine seems way too young for retirement, but having put in nearly 30 years of teaching, she's ready. As a result of her imminent departure, they aren't planting anything new in the high tunnel this spring. We headed inside to take a look at what remains from the winter season.
JUSTINE LINES: So, we planted this and each student has their own little plot. They put their name on the back of it. We try and have it all planted by about Thanksgiving, and then we eat off of it through the winter, and then normally we would take everything up and have it replanted for spring by about March spring break. But I just let it grow this year. So, they need to see things like, spinach goes to seed, you know. And when you let kale go to seed, that's what it looks like. Partially, it's a photoperiod, you know, like the days get a little bit longer and they go to seed. But also, they'll boltwhen it gets too warm. So, we talk about those things in the classroom, and a lot of this needs to be harvested and eaten.
KAYTE YOUNG: The students were all busy with their tasks. One group was weeding a bed and prepping it for flowers. Another group was working on spiffing up the paths with added wood chips.
KAYTE YOUNG: Justine introduced me to a student from Ukraine. His name Is [PHONETIC: Illya].
KAYTE YOUNG: Did you garden at home?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Yes, of course, a lot. We had ten greenhouses filled with tomatoes and stuff like that.
KAYTE YOUNG: And that's with your family or with your school?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Yes, no, that was a family business.
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, right. What kinds of things did you grow?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: A lot. It depends on the season. Like tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes. A lot of things. I just cannot say all of these.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you feel like your skills work here as well, like it's a similar climate or really different climate?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: It's not really different, it's pretty similar, yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you like being in the garden here, at school?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Yes, of course. It's interesting. I learned a lot of new things here.
KAYTE YOUNG: Can you say one thing you learned?
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Gym work is the best, yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: Well, thank you so much for talking with me, I really appreciate it.
ILLYA, GLENDALE HIGH SCHOOL: Yes, thank you too.
KAYTE YOUNG: After my chat with Illya, it was time to start gathering the tools and wrapping up. The storm clouds were thickening, and the school day was almost over anyway.
JUSTINE LINES: Okay, guys, I think it's going to start raining. So let's go ahead and start cleaning up.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you think this is just going to blow over? What time does school end?
JUSTINE LINES: 3:10.
KAYTE YOUNG: Okay.
JUSTINE LINES: So, yes, I'll be right out.
KAYTE YOUNG: Okay. See you later. Nice to meet you guys. Thank you.
KAYTE YOUNG: I managed to make it back to my car before the downpour. It was an intense but brief spring thunderstorm. Later, I sat down with Justine in her backyard to hear more about her garden curriculum and how she got started with this work. Stay tuned for that conversation, after a short break.
KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. We just paid a visit to a school garden program facilitated by my guest, Justine Lines.
JUSTINE LINES: My name is Justine Lines and I live in Springfield, Missouri. I teach at Glendale High School, which is a part of the Springfield public schools. I teach science, research and design, ecology of the garden, classes one and two. And then I also teach a lot of health science classes, so health science one, two and three. And I am a biologist.
KAYTE YOUNG: I was lucky enough to join Justine in her lush backyard on a cool spring day. Her husband, Sam, had fired up their outdoor brick oven for some homemade pizzas and her dogs were making mischief around the table on the patio. I asked Justine about her school garden program at Glendale, and how she got started with this kind of teaching.
JUSTINE LINES: I started teaching 29 years ago. For a long time I taught, I was the department chair of the largest high school in Springfield. I had, as things would go, 11 men on my science teaching faculty, and I was the one woman. And so I worked really hard. I was the department chair, my daughter was going through high school, and it was just a really busy time. And after she started her second year of college, I realized that I could maybe do some things that I wanted to do. So I quit the job of being the department chair and teaching in Springfield, and I took a job in Costa Rica. And I went to Costa Rica and I taught at Country Day School. It's the largest private high school in Central America. And I was their biology teacher. So I taught AP bio, I taught biology, I taught ecology, I was the biology teacher. And I loved being in that role so much.
KAYTE YOUNG: With the economic downturn in 2008, Justine decided to head home to the States, to Springfield, to her home and to her husband, Sam. She returned from Costa Rica with an overwhelming desire to share with her students the wonder of exploring the ecosystem that surrounds them.
JUSTINE LINES: For those of you who don't know, or if you haven't heard, the Ozarks is a beautiful place. We have cobble-bottomed streams. We live on a Ozark plateau that's made out of limestone, and it has karst topography, so we have lots of caves and really pristine waterways. I love to go canoeing and hiking, and I used to take students on a camping trip or a hiking trip every quarter, before I left for Costa Rica. And when I came back, all of a sudden everything had changed. You could not take a student off the campus without clearing it through risk management.
KAYTE YOUNG: Justine returned to a system for forms and permission slips, and liability waivers, that threw barriers in her path, preventing her from organizing the hiking and camping outings that she had enjoyed with students in the past.
JUSTINE LINES: And so I thought, if I can't take the students to nature, I'm going to bring nature to me. And one thing that's important in my past was that, what really formed me as a biologist were trips to wilderness, or trips where I would go and study nature and feel like I was really in connection with this understanding of nature. And so we would go to, like, the Wilson's Creek Battlefield and we did nature studies out there. I did that for three years when I was in middle school to high school. And they impacted me so much. I just wanted to become a biologist to live that life. And I loved being in the field. And so I wanted to bring that back to the students that I taught. But, if you can't take them on any special trips, you know, how do you do it? During that year when I came back, I told my principal, I said, if you see any special grants or anything that might be beneficial to form a school garden, let me know.
JUSTINE LINES: And it just so happened that 2008 was the year that some friends of mine actually wrote the D.I.R.T. grant. So it's Dig In R12, the D.I.R.T. grant. And it basically paid for five high schools to have a high tunnel, and then five more schools to get raised beds. So, I applied for it and I was the only high school in Springfield to get a D.I.R.T. grant. So it paid for me to have a high tunnel and four raised beds, a shed, tools, wheelbarrows, and a little bit of curricular help. So, we started with a big in-ground garden. My husband and Adam Millsap put up the high tunnel, and they put it in really well. And the next year, we started classes. And my principal let me offer a class, which filled three classes. So, the first year, I had 90 students in the garden. And then every year, it was, like, more students and more students and more students came to the garden.
JUSTINE LINES: And, we wrote grants to bring elementary students to mentor with my students and I felt just so good about that, even though I would say that I am not a gardener extraordinaire. My original goal was to get kids outside, to increase their knowledge of the outdoors. That's where biology takes place, is outdoors. So, we did a succession garden; we took over spaces. I didn't ask permission for using some of the spaces. And when I built outdoor classroom spaces, people loved it. People bring their classes out. If you put three or four benches together, that's a classroom space. And so, by accenting it with, like, some native flowers, and then just having places where classes can come and gather, where students can read outside. You know, on those beautiful days when it just feels like torture to be inside, you bring your class outside. You do reading, you do writing, you do an art project. And I always invited everybody out to the garden.
KAYTE YOUNG: So other classrooms are able to use the spaces as well?
JUSTINE LINES: Absolutely. In fact, we sent little messages and email, hey, I'm going to be out in the outdoor classroom. We call it the mosaic classroom, because we have nine big mosaics out there. So there's the mosaic outdoor classroom, there's under-the-tree classroom, there's, you know, the picnic table classroom. Then, there's my garden space. And for a little while, we had the stump classroom, until the stumps kind of broke down. But any rate, it's just been a great way to get people outside and to bring nature to them. And so that's why we're always making sure that whenever there's a chance to see butterflies or attract butterflies or pollinators, we talk about the importance of tracking pollinators. We oftentimes have frogs or tree frogs, and that gives us a little caveatto start talking about amphibians. And, I love compost, and so that biogeochemical cycling, which is the way that we attach it to the curriculum, those are the major instructional goals that we attach it to.
JUSTINE LINES: But, looking at that biogeochemical cycling, and then when you look at compost underneath dissecting scopes,you see all the life, you see all the funguses that move in, you see the bacteria. Then you see what feeds on them. And then you can identify all of the macroinvertebrates that feed on the organisms that eat bacteria. And it's a little food web and a food chain that's happening right under our feet all the time. So, students just start to get this appreciation for nature and we've planted the seed where they love nature. It's just, you have to get outside and plant that seed. At the same time, too, there was a book called Last Child in the Woods, and I think that we also went to having Chromebooks and the kids started doing all their work online. And their noses were just in these sort of darkly lit Chromebooks all the time. They didn't really like it, a lot of kids didn't really like it.
JUSTINE LINES: And the chance to get outside and to be with people and to get away from screens, was wanted by the kids. So, that Last Child in the Woods book is all about, you know, the importance of getting kids outside. So all of that was happening, you know, the zeitgeist of that time, so I'm so glad that we had those experiences when we had them.
KAYTE YOUNG: So, you're saying that you have taken samples of compost and put them under the microscope or dissecting scope? You've done that?
JUSTINE LINES: Yes, that's one of my favorite things to do with students. We took soil from the compost pile and looked at it. And, you have never found so many worms, so many fungus mites, so many springtails. They call them woodlice or isopods. You know, we learned all kinds of things, like isopods store their babies. They're actually marsupials. So you turn them upside down and there's little babies underneath. They carry their babies. And we found everything from, like, nematodes, we identified bad nematodes and good nematodes, some predatory nematodes. There's always lots and lots of millipedes and centipedes in our compost, and that's when you get the oohs and aahs from students. They're just amazed.
KAYTE YOUNG: Well, that's what I was going to say is, what must that be like as just a learning experience, to see this whole ecosystem in, you know, a tablespoon of soil or something?
JUSTINE LINES: It's absolutely phenomenal. And, you know, what's so great is in the high tunnel we had all kinds of aphids that oftentimes are pests in a high tunnel. And you can see a plant and go and say, oh, look at the spinach, it looks so beautiful. But when you put it under the microscope, you can see lots of other things going on. So, I had my students go, and they were supposed to pick ten different leaves out of the high tunnel this spring. And so we took them inside and put them under a dissecting scope, and the students realized, oh my gosh, there are aphids everywhere. But they couldn't see them with their eyes, you know. So then we tried to use natural pesticides, so we used neem oil and diatomaceous earth, and we used mineral oil: several different natural pesticides. And ultimately, the students saw that using some natural pesticides didn't hurt the plants and the plants were still edible afterwards.
JUSTINE LINES: You know, we looked at them today, you and I did today, and they were beautiful. And so, it's just been such a great backdrop for so many great experiences. So, I really do believe that if you just create a space, people will come. The space is dictated by a love of nature, so, we have bluebirds that come back every year; we have bluebird nesting boxes. And we've created a space for nature.
KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Justine to reflect on her work in the garden at her high school, what it has meant to her, and any parting thoughts.
JUSTINE LINES: I think the best thing to do with any student or young person is to take their hand and get them out into nature. And sit and visit with them, have good experiences outside. Even if they don't want to go, kind of find ways to go on a hike or to get out and enjoy a sunset. Share whatever you can, and they will remember it. And we just have to make the Earth so important that they're willing to fight for it. We have to make it more omnipresent in their lives. Nature has that great healing that goes on when you just spend time in nature. And, so, I think that is my overall message.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Justine Lines, biologist and educator with Springfield Public Schools in Southwest Missouri. Thank you so much for talking with me.
JUSTINE LINES: Thank you, Kayte.
KAYTE YOUNG: We caught Justine at the tail-end of her career as a public school teacher. She retired in the spring of 2023. But her legacy lives on through the garden at Glendale High School. Check our website for photos: eartheats.org. It's time for a short break. When we come back, we'll visit another SPS high school with a different model for their gardening program. Stay with us.
KAYTE YOUNG: This is Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week, we're continuing our Back-to-School theme, this time focusing on gardens in high schools. I had the chance to visit some programs in southern Missouri during a recent trip, including the gardens at Central High School. Central is the oldest high school in Springfield, built in 1893. The historic parts of the building still stand, along with some newer updates built over the years. The day I showed up there was some kind of fire alarm system test going on. So, you might hear ringing, hopefully in the distant background. Central High School has a garden club rather than a classroom curriculum. The club meets twice a week after school during the fall and spring semesters. And they meet weekly through the summer to care for the garden. The club is organized and run by two passionate science teachers. Those two dedicated faculty are Brandi Nelson and Paul Epps. When the program started, it was a club with an environmental focus called the Green Team. Here's Paul.
PAUL EPPS: My name is Paul Epps, and I'm a science teacher here at Central High School and the Central Botanical Society co-sponsor. So we had Green Team, Brandi and I had Green Team, and we did a lot of things like, you know, stream cleans and street adoptions, and tried to do recycling programs, with mixed success. But we had built one garden as part of that, just part of the club, and we just found ourselves always wanting to work in the garden. Not wanting to go pick up trash, not wanting to recycle. Just wanted to work in the garden. And so finally, we were just like, why don't we just make a gardening club? Let's do a gardening club and we'll let somebody else do the Green Team. And, so, that's basically what happened. The herb garden there, that was a original garden here at Central, but it was done by a special education teacher and he wanted to work with functional skills with kids. So he would start the seeds upstairs in the greenhouse and then he would plant them out here.
PAUL EPPS: And they would come out every day and take care. And so he had built that space, and when he left he was like, do you want this space? And we're like, sure. Then we had to figure out what to do with it. And that was before the veggie beds and stuff. So, we started veggies and they went okay, but we finally settled on herb here. And then our first one was the one on Benton, with the arbor,the wooden arbor. And so that was our first gardening. And, again, we just sort of messed around until it sort of took the shape that it has now. But that's what started it was it grew out of an environmental club.
KAYTE YOUNG: What kind of students are drawn to the garden club, or how would you characterize the group?
PAUL EPPS: That's an interesting question. And sometimes I think it varies. So usually what happens, is I offer extra credittowards the end of the year to come help us do a bunch of work in the garden, like a work day. And we did that last weekend. And then people will come out and work. And then inevitably, like, a few: four, five, six, will kind of go, I really like that, that was fun, I want to do more of that. So they join the club. And then they'll drag along a friend or two, or a sibling, and then it kind of grows that way. As far as how to categorize them, I don't know if I know. I would argue that the majority are sort of our high-flying kids, students who achieve academically, yes. That would be our average student that we have across the spectrum, which is what I like about it. And everybody tends to get along, so even where they wouldn't normally really talk a lot in the halls, they'll talk out here, you know, which is kind of cool.
KAYTE YOUNG: So, I've seen a lot of school gardens, I've been involved in some, and I've never seen one that had quite so much going on. I mean, you've got bed after bed after bed. They're all perfectly mulched, they're irrigated, some of them are planted like they're getting ready for the season. There's a orchard, there's a herb garden over here and then there's other kind of native garden over there. How in the world do you keep up with all that, or how do you rein yourself in from doing too much?
PAUL EPPS: So, Brandi reins me in. I'll come up with an idea and I'll be like, I want to do this, I want to do this. And Brandi's like, we can't do that, we have too much on our plate. We can't do that. And she's kind of trained the students to tell me that too. We really haven't started anything new, that I can think of, for a while. We've been sort of refining spaces, so the orchard space is also a berry patch. So right now, what we're really doing over there is we're focusing on adding blueberries to the patch. And so we'll have blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. So it's more that instead of, oh, let's take that space over there that's empty and doesn't look great and turn it into yet another garden.
KAYTE YOUNG: Okay, but then how do you keep maintained what you have, 'cause I just know how hard it is? Is it because it's a weekly dedicated thing?
PAUL EPPS: Yes, it is that, and it's year-round. So, people don't really think of it that way. So one thing that makes us different than, I think, a lot of school gardens is we come out every week. We have a group that meets, of students. Some are alumni, some are current students, some are students that are coming to school as freshmen. And then sometimes we'll get parents and teachers that have retired, or teachers that still work here. But they all meet, and we just work all morning, and usually it's just one day a week, sometimes it's two in the summer. But we'll do that and work all the time. And then when school's in session, we meet two days a week after school.
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, okay.
PAUL EPPS: And so we work on it two days a week.
KAYTE YOUNG: And is that also through the winter months that you do stuff?
PAUL EPPS: Yes, absolutely. Because it seems like we've been able to grow for a long time, like, deep into the fall lately. But we always have stuff to clean up, we always have stuff to repair, we always have stuff to start planning for the next time.
KAYTE YOUNG: Now, the planning, if you're doing it year-round, that's great, and you get the planning time.
PAUL EPPS: And we have a greenhouse on the roof that's heated, and so we can start our starts up there.
KAYTE YOUNG: What do you think it brings to people of this age group to be able to get out in the garden? Or what does it mean to you, to work with them and do it here?
PAUL EPPS: Oh, I hate them. No, I'm just kidding. So for them, I mean, you might have to ask them, but I would argue, for some of them it gives them a sense of community. Several of them, I think it gives them a real sense of community. It gives them a sense of ownership, because Brandi and I, we cajole them into stuff and we double-check them. But a lot of the stuff that's done is because they wanted to do it. And, again, that changes with the different years, right? But, like the group we have right now that's about to graduate, they're phenomenal. And, really, they come and tell me what they're doing. I don't tell them what they're doing. And we just make sure everything's okay to do and we get the resources for them, and we get out of the way. Which is really how I think life should be managed, right? So they get to do that, but that gives them the ownership of it, so they're super proud of these gardens and they're protective of these gardens, and they want the best for it, you know. So they're willing to come out here when it's 9 degrees and they're willing to come out here when it's 30 degrees, and they do all the work in between.
PAUL EPPS: And so that's for them, is that. For me, personally, I guess I look at it probably two ways. A little bit I'll look at it that maybe it's my legacy, like, it's the thing I'm going to leave behind here, you know, some day. Which is the older I get, the more that becomes like a real thing. But then, the other big thing, like today we went to another garden that's run bySpringfield Community Gardens out on the south side of town. And I knew a bunch of the people there. Some of them had been students here and helped with us. But they're all these big professionals, you know, and it was great. And I realized that we were part of a big community. And in Springfield, we have a really, I would argue, a very active community garden scene and a pretty good school garden scene, especially since Kendall's taken over. And it feels like a big community. And to know that we are part of that community, an important part of that community, it just feels awesome and I love that. I like being part of that. And, so, I'd say overall, that's probably what I get out of it. Plus, you know, tomatoes [LAUGHS].
KAYTE YOUNG: Why do you like to grow food?
PAUL EPPS: I see it a little bit as like magic. I see it as definitely self-sufficient. There's something about being able to take care of myself. And even though I'm 55, you know, most of my students will say that I still struggle with that, and they're probably right. But there's one thing, I can go out here and I know that I can grow some food. And then, to see over time the soil getting better and the wildlife coming back to the area, I mean, we get all sorts of wildlife out here that we didn't have ten years ago. And when I see how happy other teachers are to be able to come out here and pick herbs, or pick tomatoes or pick lettuce, you know, it's pretty rewarding. When they're like, really? I can take that? That's pretty rewarding. And you feel like you're sort of contributing. You know, you're not just taking, you're giving. And that makes me feel great, yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you so much.
PAUL EPPS: Oh, it's my pleasure.
KAYTE YOUNG: Paul's partner in crime at the garden club is Brandi Nelson. She took me on a tour of their many garden spaces surrounding the historic school building. Here's where you're going to hear that fire alarm in the background. We walked past the garlic beds, the fruit trees, the high tunnel, and about 15 orderly raised beds, meticulously mulched with straw.
BRANDI NELSON: So we have seven different garden spaces. The one way over there is we have, like, a native garden and then we have just kind of flowers. And then, that was our first garden way over there. And then we have veggie one and we have veggie two. And the kids kind of just decide what they want to plant and design it themselves, and kind of go from there. It's something different every year.
KAYTE YOUNG: Everything looks so well tended, it's all mulched. It's got irrigation in every single bed.
BRANDI NELSON: We just got the irrigation put in.
KAYTE YOUNG: It's amazing.
BRANDI NELSON: Yes. We have a great student crew. You guys, you're amazing. There's a lot that are very active that aren't here right now.
KAYTE YOUNG: This is a really cool school. I like the building.
BRANDI NELSON: Isn't it great?
KAYTE YOUNG: It's really quiet over here.
BRANDI NELSON: Yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: This is good.
BRANDI NELSON: That's what you get. So, this garden over here, this is actually the first place there was a garden space, but it wasn't ours. There was a special education teacher here years ago, and he started one little bed with his students to try to teach them some life skills. And so he would come out here. And he was mostly the one that tended it, but he would bring a student. Then when he was going to leave, he knew that we had started doing stuff in the greenhouse and over there and so he was like, hey, do you want to take this over? And so that, I guess, really was the first garden, but it wasn't ours. And, so, anyway. And then last year, the students, and actually my husband came and helped because he knows how to do this kind of stuff with the bricks. He helped them and taught them how to, because it was just wood and it was all falling apart. So we put these more permanent structures in. This is our herb garden.
KAYTE YOUNG: How long have you been doing this?
BRANDI NELSON: I've been at Central High School, this is the end of my 17th year. He and I were doing a club together called Green Team, which is the environmental club, and through Green Team we started doing the garden. And we realized, after building a couple of gardens, this is more than just environmental, we need our own club just for gardening. I don't think he and I realized what we were getting into, to be honest, with maintenance and the care of the gardens. And then when we kept expanding and expanding and expanding, we're like, okay, we have to stop at some point. I have to rein him in sometimes because he's always like, what if we put a garden here? And I'm like, we have to stay with what we've got and maintain those. And so I would say garden club has been in existence for probably maybe eight to ten years.
KAYTE YOUNG: That's amazing. Yes, I do know what it takes to run a school garden and I can't believe how big this is. It must just really be a labor of love.
BRANDI NELSON: It is a labor of love, definitely, but we also love the students and we love to see them learning, and watching them once they grow stuff. And kids that have never done this ever, what they get out of it is nice. And some kids, this is where they meet their friends. Or it's good for kids too that like to do things by themselves, or to work together, because there's so much things in gardening that you can do by yourself. You don't have to have a partner or a group, and that's how a lot of people prefer to work. We have a partnership with the library here across the street.
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, cool.
BRANDI NELSON: There's a lady over there that's really big into herbs. She knows everything you can need to know about herbs. And she started the seed library over here that anybody can come and get seeds if they want, and do seed swaps and things. And so we try to save seeds for her for the seed swap. But we also are group volunteers when she needs help sorting the seeds and putting them in packages and labeling them and all that. And then, on the days that they have the seed swap, our group goes over on whatever Saturday it is and helps her set that up and kind of organize and keep it clean while people go through and rummage through the seeds. So our groups help with that. There's a community garden that's not far from here. It's a few blocks away. And we have helped with that. Sometimes they have an event where they invite the public, and they have some kid activities and different things.
BRANDI NELSON: And our group comes and helps, basically, just with the organization and design. Not the design. Organizing it that day and setting it up and keeping things running smoothly. So the kids have gotten some volunteer opportunities outside of the school that way.
KAYTE YOUNG: Thankfully, we moved back away from the persistent fire alarm bell towards a garden on the edge of a busy road, on the other side of Central High School's campus. It was marked by a wood arbor-like structure, fitted with benches. It seemed like a pleasant place to rest while waiting for a ride after school, or a nice spot to land to get ready for the school day.
BRANDI NELSON: So, that side of the garden is almost all native Missouri shrubs and plants. We have put a few things in there to make it with some colors that are native. But for the most part, everything over there is native. But it'll be so full, you know, in a couple of months, to the point that we have to cut back those trees a few times.
KAYTE YOUNG: Wow.
BRANDI NELSON: And then this. I have planted so many perennials in here. And what I think happens is because every year we have so many new kids coming through, and when we tell them to go out there and weed, they think that it's a weed and it's not a weed. Because, you know, some of those native plants, you can't really tell.
KAYTE YOUNG: You know, it's just the risk you run with gardening with young people. Or anybody really [LAUGHS].
BRANDI NELSON: So this big hole that's right here, the grass is growing back there. It used to be right here, and so we moved it back, because it was so big in the front. And so, thankfully, it survived, so it's coming back there. But we've got to figure out what we're going to do with this hole. I'm partial to this garden just, I think, because it was our first one, and I still remember the day that we had asked for permission to do it. But the principal at the time, I don't think he really realized that we were just going to pull up a dump truck and dump a big pile of dirt and just go. Because that's what we did and just went with the flow.
KAYTE YOUNG: Well, it's really beautiful too. It just feels like a really intentional space, and it has this little seating, which is gorgeous.
BRANDI NELSON: And we love it when we see so many kids out here using the space. And we were worried at first, like, are they going to tear it up, will this get destroyed? Because, you know, kids are kids. Also, we have a big transientpopulation around here, so you just never know. But this structure, and that structure right there, have been here for years, and they're fine. The only thing that's wrong with them is you just have to do some repairs every once in a while. We eventually, hopefully soon, have a goal of putting rooftop gardens, like succulent gardens, on top of those. And we did the chalkboard, hoping that a teacher could bring small classes out here, which we know teachers have, and if they want to use the chalkboard, they can.
KAYTE YOUNG: Before I left for the day, a few of the student members were kind enough to talk with me. I asked them what garden club means to them.
SOPHIE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: I guess, for me, it feels like we live in an age where you look on the news and it just feels like everything is going wrong. And so gardening feels like a small way we can have some actual tangible, positive impact on the world around us. Like, in a world where it's easy to feel like everything is just falling apart, it's a small way to actually see progress.
KAYTE YOUNG: How does it make you feel when you're in the garden?
SOPHIE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: More stable, [LAUGHS] I guess is the easiest way to put it. Like, in just getting physical work done, helps me feel more grounded in reality and less overwhelmed and angry and depressed.
KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you. Can you tell me your name?
SOPHIE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: My name is Sophie.
KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you, Sophie.
ERIN NELSON, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: It's a great way to escape from the stress of school and everything going on around us, because you just get so caught up in the labor. And then at the end of the day, you're like, oh, I have these pretty flowers that I get to look at. Look at all my hard work, it's paid off.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you like growing food, do you like harvesting food or herbs?
ERIN NELSON, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: I'm more into the maintenance. I love working on all the building projects around and helping with weeding and everything, and watering.
KAYTE YOUNG: That's important. Most people just want the reward [LAUGHS]. That's great.
ERIN NELSON, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: Thank you.
KAYTE YOUNG: Can you tell me your name?
ERIN NELSON, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: I'm Erin Nelson.
KAYTE YOUNG: Next, I asked a student named [PHONETIC: Elise].
ELISE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: What did you want me to say?
KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, just, how do you feel when you're out in the garden, or why do you participate in the garden club?
ELISE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: Garden club's really nice because we all work together as a team. And it's really nice to also get produce and veggies and fruit and herbs to take home. That's something that I really like. Especially in the summer, we get to take home all of our produce. And so it's like direct access to fresh foods and produce. And then we also get to learn about agriculture. But also all my friends are in garden club, so it's kind of like a fun way to have an outlet together, that we can all work together to do what we want to do. And they give us a lot of freedom here. There's teachers involved, but they let us pick what we want in the gardens, which I think is really important to us because we get a lot of trust. And with that, we get to make something and put effort and make the school, like, a part of the school, something that we want. Yes, it's been a big source of community for all of us, I think.
KAYTE YOUNG: What are some of your favorite things that you've grown here?
ELISE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: I mostly do the orchard stuff, so I really love the blackberries, and we even got a few peaches off our peach tree, so that was good. And then, like, we just grow so much stuff, like the asparagus and potatoes. And last year, the cucumbers did really good. So I love cucumbers and things. So, yes.
KAYTE YOUNG: Wow, a lot of good stuff.
ELISE, CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL: We got a singular watermelon last year. The singular watermelon was pretty good. It was tiny and it was small, but we got one.
KAYTE YOUNG: We heard the voices of three students in the garden club at Central High School, Sophie, Erin and Elise. That's probably all the evidence you need for the power of programs like these. In addition to the contact with nature and learning about growing things, and having the chance to taste freshly picked garden produce, the students are also experiencing the calming, grounding effects of working outside with plants, the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, and the feeling that they're making a positive contribution in the world. They're also connecting with each other, and working together toward shared goals. Okay, okay, I've made my case. I'd love to hear your thoughts about school gardens. Did you have one at your school growing up? Are you participating in one now? What do you think they bring to the educational environment? And does it make sense to devote precious and limited resources towards gardens in our public schools? Drop us a line. Eartheats@gmail.com, or leave us a message on social media. You can find us on Instagram and Facebook, @eartheats. And as always, our website, eartheats.org.
KAYTE YOUNG: Dear Earth Eats listeners. Yes, I'm talking to you, with your radio tuned to WFIU. Or, this episode downloaded into your podcast playlist. Thank you for tuning in. I want to invite you to consider subscribing to the Earth Eats Digest. It's a short newsletter I put out every two weeks. I write a little something at the beginning, usually about the current season, what might be growing, what sounds good to eat. Maybe I'll touch on some larger issue in the food world. It's usually along the lines of a short, personal essay. The newsletter also includes a hand-picked selection of recipe links that take you directly to the Earth Eats archive, found on the website. And then I'll mention what's coming up on the show, or what you might have just missed the previous week. And I announce any special events or things that might be of interest to listeners. There's always plenty of photos and links to make it easy to find out more about anything that piques your interest. The newsletter's called the Earth Eats Digest. It's free, and it's easy to sign up.
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KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time. The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Payton Whaley, and Harvest Public Media. Special thanks this week to Justine Lines, Brandi Nelson, Paul Epps, Sophie, Erin, Elise, and everyone at Central High School's garden club and the garden at Glendale High School. This show is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music.