Plant The Seed Program

By Emily Capo Sauerman / Photography By Alyssa Jiosa | May 03, 2017
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Plant the Seed Founder, Susannah Fotopulos and kids at The Ross Early Learning Center.

Plant the Seed teaches school kids the value of gardening, kindness and where their food comes from.

The coolest thing about working with kids is the absolute wonder and curiosity they bring to the garden

Anita Peebles, garden coordinator

Sprinkle fingers ready!” Miss Leila calls out. With that, eight small hands, each attached to its own five-year-old, shoot into the air, forty excited and somewhat soil-encrusted fingers all set to wiggle. The group begins to sing... “Down comes the gentle rain, drip—drip—drip. Up comes the little plant, grow—Grow—GROW!”

Talk about transforming Nashville from the roots up. "Miss Leila" is Leila Mzali, a Garden Programs Coordinator with Plant the Seed, a nonprofit dedicated to turning community and school gardens into outdoor classrooms. Plant the Seed educates some of our youngest citizens about healthy growing and eating practices with gardens designed specifically for them: potting counters at their height, and wheelbarrows and watering cans made for little hands. Under the guidance of talented leaders such as Leila— she holds a M.Ed from Vanderbilt with a concentration in food justice—children flourish as they explore the wonders of gardening.

It's an education that, at first glance—children running around with small shovels and building tiny forts for bugs, often doesn't look very educational. Yet, upon closer observation, Plant the Seed creates highly functional outdoor classrooms where students learn everything from gardening techniques and vocabulary to motor skills and teamwork. “The difference between August and now is amazing,” Plant the Seed founder Susannah Fotopulos observes, referring to the students’ improved behavior and knowledge base. “They are like whole new people."

Leila agrees. Beaming with pride, she recounts one student’s epiphany: “Miss Leila! Good News! The blueberry bush is going to grow! I know because I saw a bee pollinating it!” Leila remembers her favorite butterfly lesson: “The kids loved learning what a chrysalis was. For weeks afterward, they would say, ‘This looks like a chrysalis!’”

So why is this edible education so effective? According to Susannah, the garden allows for play-based learning. Children are encouraged to touch everything (gently), taste much, and ask any questions they want, enabling them to draw deep connections about the nature of things.

But Plant the Seed doesn't just sow new ground literally, it does so figuratively as well, planting gardens among Nashville's diverse cultural and socioeconomic populations encourages cross-cultural dialogue among its gardeners, young or old alike. (Ah, the universal language of food!)

Susannah began the initiative in 2011 while working with Kurdish immigrants. She recalls a student saying, “I feel like I am back home when my hands are in the soil.” To people for whom farming is part of their heritage, Plant the Seed meets a deep-seated need for rootedness.

Another benefit of Plant the Seed is to help ensure that food-insecure children in Nashville gain both awareness and access to good, healthy food. The young gardeners don't just return home with fresh produce to share with their families, but with knowledge as well. Knowledge is indeed power, and educating young citizens about healthy and sustainable food production will, Susannah and her staff believe, create a positive feedback loop to address local issues of poverty and food insecurity.

To help, donate garden tools (new or old) to Plant the Seed and sign up for their newsletter at planttheseed.org.

To volunteer, contact anita@planttheseed.org

You can find Plant the Seed at the following schools: Casa Azafran Early Learning Center Ross Early Learning Center, Explore! Community School, Davis Early Learning Center (Bordeaux) Whitsitt Elementary School Cambridge Early Learning Center

Plant the Seed’s Executive Director Susannah Fotopulos often asks the children around her, “If you plant a carrot seed, a carrot grows. If you plant a tomato seed, a tomato plant grows. So what do we get when we plant a seed of kindness?” Does kindness truly grow? The preschoolers would offer a resounding “YES!”
Article from Edible Nashville at http://ediblenashville.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/plant-seed-program
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