Taylor Hicks Elementary School in Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) has a goal to teach students about nutritious foods and allow them to try fresh, earth-grown food. Approximately seven years ago, Cari Cole, a teacher at Taylor Hicks, worked with Yavapai County Community Health Services (YCCHS) to create a school gardening program in the classroom as well as a garden club. Cari Cole has been Taylor Hick’s Garden Champion since the creation of this program. Sarah Reveile, coordinator of the Farm to School Program, said “Our Farm to School Program is grateful to have such a devoted and passionate Garden Champion.”
The garden started as just a couple of raised beds on the north side of campus near the soccer field. In recent years, due to the new PUSD Farm to School AmeriCorps VISTAs, the school garden has grown into a full-sized garden. Volunteers from YCCHS helped create 10 raised garden beds, an outdoor classroom was assembled, and a drip irrigation system was put into place.
GEM Environmental has also been a major contributor to making Taylor Hick’s garden prosper. In 2019, Paul Reznik, the Farm to School AmeriCorps VISTA at the time, reached out to GEM asking for help building a fence around the garden. Animals had been creeping in during the afternoon hours to munch on all of the tasty treats the garden has to offer, and Paul was hoping to find a peaceful method to stop them. Eric Welsh, the Executive Director of GEM, was happy to help!
Eric led a team of volunteers who worked to install the fence around the garden. The project resulted in a fence which is over 6-feet tall and protects the garden well from animals, vandals, and fly-away sports balls.
Then in 2021, GEM reached out to the current Garden Champion VISTA, Sara Reveile, to ask if the GEM team could help her with an event for our February 2021 service project. She enthusiastically agreed and immediately knew which project needed the most support! While the fence helped keep animals such as deer out, it was not able to stop the gophers from digging under the fence and getting into the garden. Therefore, Sara asked our team to dig a 2-foot-deep trench around the garden so that chicken wire could be placed under the ground.
In regards to the event, Sarah commented “Due to the pandemic, PUSD has limited volunteer activities on school campuses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our volunteer event with GEM Environmental was the first event we've been able to have in many months. We felt confident that the exposure risk would be low given that we were all working outside in the garden, physically distant, and with masks on. Since this is the first volunteer event our Farm to School Program has had in many months, we were enormously grateful to have a full crew of people help us complete a large project such as this.”
GEM was happy to contribute to this project because the garden has been used for a variety of educational purposes. School gardens can be used to teach almost any subject, from science to art. This diversity and opportunity within education is exactly what Cari Cole strives for. The school garden helps Mrs. Cole's students apply seemingly abstract concepts in the classroom to tangible examples in the garden. On average, 35 students get to try each 'batch' of garden goods. Mrs. Cole's 1st-grade class and her garden club get to enjoy the fruit of their labor while enjoying the fruits and vegetables that are grown in the school garden.
The GEM team was happy to be able to help protect the labor of Mrs. Cole’s 1st-grade class! With the newly expanded GEM team, 8 GEM members helped with this service event. This project was inspiring and unique because it allowed our organization to be part of a sustainable solution to a problem that has given the garden so much trouble, especially since students interact with the Taylor Hicks Garden in many different ways.