What a fun morning on a beautiful sunny day in San Diego County visiting with Craig Williams, a teacher at Sunset High School, a continuation school designed to give extensive help to students in need of flexibility and individualized attention. Craig received a grant from the Pollination Project back in 2013 to support his “garden pass” program and he invited us to catch up with him.
The garden idea started when Craig wondered one day, how to bring his “Happy Place” from home to school. His happy place is his home’s front yard filled with organic edible plants that he shares with others and that brings much happiness to people. He thought his students could use a “happy place,” an area to engage, to learn, to find purpose or to just feel at peace.
His idea got the support of everyone at school and the seed money from the Pollination Project allowed him to start building. About seven students volunteered and worked after school for weeks on end. He shared that it was almost sad to finish the garden as the experience was truly empowering for the participating youth. Below are two pictures how it got started.
Everything was going well, the plants were beginning to grow (from seeds) when one morning a student noticed that the whole garden was eaten down to stubs! Critters! Something unforeseen but a lesson to all on learning how to live with them. Adjustments needed to be made and once again Craig brought his tools from home to protect the garden; the critters have been unable to get inside since then.
Over the last three years, the garden has been home to small groups of students and teachers who have shown interest. They have grown all sorts of crops including artichoke, lettuce, tomato, dill, rosemary, arugula, potatoes, sunflowers, milkweed (for monarchs), and more. Most mornings you can see Craig out watering and playing in the garden, and it becomes a central meeting place for himself, a few students, and a few teachers and provides a smooth transition into the school day. The students know that when they are frazzled and unable to concentrate during class, they can spend a few minutes in the garden watering or doing a specific task to help center them mentally.
The garden now has a small pond, some drought resistant plants and a mix of beneficial critters like lady bugs, lizards, birds and spiders. Part of the process has been to help the students experience the appreciation for the miracle of all living things through interacting with them and observing them.
A real challenge (besides the critters) is that Sunset High School has a population of students with problems ranging from depression and anxiety to drug addiction, suicide attempts, homelessness, poor relationships, etc. It is difficult to get consistency from this population, so beds go uncared for when pressing issues in the students’ lives take over. Craig does a lot of the caretaking himself so that their plots remain happy. The students don’t need to know that, they just need to feel the accomplishment.
The garden has been a huge success in 2018, with more participants than in previous years thanks to the Adopt-A-Plot idea, where a student gets his own plot to tend. Students suffering from anxiety have greatly benefited and use that space to relax by tending to their crops. Some plots are abandoned, which is expected with this type of student body, but many have grown and produced beauty and bounty!
Craig is available for questions or to support others about organic gardening. You can contact him through the Pollination Project. Below find the uncut 19 second video of the youth and Craig working in the garden. I will leave you with Craig’s words: “May we all find our “Happy Place!”