Teacher Essay — Carter Latendresse: Why Garden in School?

LGI  hopes its web­site can become an active forum for ongo­ing dis­cus­sion about the poten­tials and chal­lenges of imple­ment­ing food– and garden-based education.

Carter Latendresse’s exten­sive essay “Why Gar­den in School?” pro­vides a first-class exam­ple of inno­v­a­tive cur­ricu­lum design. It is the first install­ment of what we hope will become a rich mosaic of ideas and thoughts to stim­u­late and inspire  fel­low gar­den edu­ca­tors in our com­mu­nity and beyond.

I am a father of two chil­dren, ages 10 and 13, and I have taught mid­dle school, in both for pub­lic and pri­vate sys­tems, for 17 years now. Some of this time was spent in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area of Cal­i­for­nia, some in Hawaii, some in Col­orado, and the last five here in Port­land, Ore­gon. I have had tens of thou­sands of con­ver­sa­tions with my own chil­dren and with other stu­dent tweens and young teenagers about the usual top­ics one talks about young peo­ple: hope, lit­er­a­ture, social rela­tions, hair, courage, his­tory, tex­ting dur­ing class, music, ethics, movies, sports, the unfair­ness of home­work, and the rest.

In the last ten years, cer­tain envi­ron­men­tal top­ics keep com­ing up. Does recy­cling really help? If nuclear power is so dan­ger­ous, why do peo­ple use it? Will we have water to drink when the polar ice caps melt? Why is each year hot­ter than pre­vi­ous year? Why does all the news about nature always seem to be bad and get­ting worse? What can we do about it all?

When young peo­ple ask me ques­tions like these, I do my best to answer accu­rately and thor­oughly. Some­times I tell them I don’t know the answers or that it’s more com­pli­cated than try­ing to squeeze in a two-minute con­ver­sa­tion before or after the objec­tive of the day’s les­son. The fol­low­ing essay is my belated response to a dozen or so inter­re­lated stu­dent ques­tions about cli­mate, soil, gar­den­ing, food, pol­i­tics, and water that I have been asked repeat­edly over the last decade.

This essay is also related to cur­ricu­lum design, as the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional have become more and more aligned for me over the years, espe­cially with regards to the envi­ron­ment. Because I am the Gar­den Coor­di­na­tor at my school, and because sus­tain­abil­ity is one of the mis­sions of our school, Catlin Gabel, my col­leagues and I work together to cre­ate cur­ricu­lum that puts our school’s organic gar­dens and orchards to use, both ped­a­gog­i­cally and as a food source for our cafe­te­ria. As a sixth grade Eng­lish teacher, when I design cur­ricu­lum at school, I am try­ing to merge two things: one, the his­tory and lit­er­a­ture con­tent that my school’s Scope and Sequence asks me to teach; with two, the burn­ing ques­tions from my chil­dren and my stu­dents. I know that the cur­ricu­lum is best when it is real world, rel­e­vant to the lives of young peo­ple, and when it has been delib­er­ately sequenced and con­nected by a team of edu­ca­tors to cur­ricu­lum that has pre­ceded it, par­al­lels it, and will fol­low it.

My hope in writ­ing this paper is that my stu­dents and my own chil­dren will see that many adults in their lives, despite pos­si­ble appear­ances to the con­trary, are pay­ing atten­tion to their con­cerns and to the world that they will inherit from us. This paper is ded­i­cated to them.


This paper is an argu­ment for gar­den­ing in schools, focus­ing on two months of inte­grated English-history sixth grade cur­ricu­lum that explores the rela­tion­ships between a num­ber of cur­rent envi­ron­men­tal problems—notably hunger, water scarcity, top­soil loss, and global warming—and the land-use prac­tices that led to the down­fall of ancient Mesopotamia. This paper sug­gests that world lead­ers today are repeat­ing some of the same mis­takes that caused deser­ti­fi­ca­tion to top­ple the Sumer­ian empire. It then explains how our sixth grade class explores solu­tions to the exist­ing emer­gen­cies by study­ing Mesopotamia, ancient myth, gar­den­ing, and con­tem­po­rary dystopian fic­tion. Finally, this paper posits a new cos­mol­ogy that might help to remake west­ern civ­i­liza­tion, sav­ing it from the threat of present-day eco­log­i­cal crises.

You can link to Carter’s full essay, which is fea­tured on our new Essays page listed under our Resources menu.



New Collection of Seasonal Place-Based Food & Garden Lessons

A newly pub­lished web­site offers edu­ca­tors food and gar­den lessons with a spe­cial focus on agri­cul­ture in the Willamette Val­ley. Fea­tur­ing four lessons for each grade level (K-5,) this col­lec­tion inte­grates grade-level con­tent with sea­sonal inves­ti­ga­tions of the school gar­den and grounds.

The project was funded by the Healy Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. Check it out at http://eatthinkgrow.org/

This cur­ricu­lum was devel­oped by Linda Col­well and Sarah Sul­li­van, who devel­oped many of the collection’s lessons in the con­text of the Gar­den of Won­ders at Aber­nethy School in Port­land. LGI’s Tim Hahn, the third mem­ber of this devel­op­ment team, added the per­spec­tive of the class­room teacher based on his expe­ri­ence both in the class­room and in the school garden.

The Online Resources page of this web­site will have a per­ma­nent link to this site. We encour­age teach­ers to com­ment on lessons that they have used with their stu­dents and sub­mit their own place-based lessons to LGI so we can develop a free, teacher-tested resource of food and gar­den les­son for all levels.


LGI Teams with Sunnyside Environmental School

Sun­ny­side Envi­ron­men­tal School (SES) has con­tracted with the Learn­ing Gar­dens Insti­tute to pro­vide ser­vices for its ongo­ing school gar­den pro­gram. The same con­tract will put LGI in charge of the sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gram and farm-to-school pro­gram oper­at­ing at this K-8 pub­lic school site in south­east Portland.

The three edu­ca­tors LGI has under con­tract to run these pro­grams, Steph Rooney, Vin­nie Miller and Michelle Calas­ci­betta, have worked pre­vi­ously at the school in those capac­i­ties and bring a wealth of expe­ri­ence and enthu­si­asm to share with Sun­ny­side students.

Read more about Sun­ny­side Envi­ron­men­tal School and its pro­grams in this month’s features.

LGI Leases JEAN’s Urban Forest Farm for Education Center

The Learn­ing Gar­dens Insti­tute is leas­ing a small his­toric fam­ily farm on John­son Creek in south­east Port­land. Mem­bers of the John­son fam­ily have owned this prop­erty for over 100 years. Nes­tled among trees between slope and stream, it’s an inspi­ra­tional site — per­fect for LGI’s out­reach work in the community.

JEAN’s For­est Farm offers an ideal set­ting for eco­log­i­cal and place-based learn­ing, where stu­dents and teach­ers can learn how nature and agri­cul­ture can work together to sup­port life-sustaining sys­tems that ben­e­fit both the land and its inhabitants.

This farm site has pro­vided a vital con­nec­tion for Sun­ny­side Envi­ron­men­tal School’s farm-to-school pro­gram over the past six years, with middle-school-age stu­dents mak­ing sea­sonal trips to learn from the land and grow pro­duce they will  har­vest for school events. The site also includes an out­door kitchen with a cob oven, as well as a chicken coop and bee hives.

Within the next few months, the farm will add another key fea­ture, a yurt pro­vided by Mother Earth School, which plans to offer a small, nature-focused school pro­gram for grades one and two dur­ing the 2012–13 school year at the farm, along with a series of sum­mer camps.

The Learn­ing Gar­dens Insti­tute will uti­lize the site for teacher work­shops and classes, sea­sonal cel­e­bra­tions and other events. If you are inter­ested in rent­ing the site on an hourly basis for an class, event or cel­e­bra­tion, con­tact Michelle at jeansurbanforestfarm@gmail.com.