By Brian Solem, Director of Communications
Photos provided by Shawana Ledgister-Joseph
Marc Gauthier didn’t start his career as a school garden expert, but that’s where he thrives today. After working as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teacher for 17 years, Marc merged his passion for growing with his belief that the garden is a classroom filled with lessons to last a lifetime. Three years ago, he established a school garden program at John F. Kennedy Middle School in North Miami Beach, Florida.
“Agriculture programs are the easiest way to see where our food comes from,” said Marc. He reflected on a moment when a student was baffled to see that Romaine lettuce is an actual plant, growing right there in the soil outside of his school.
Marc teaches agriculture as an elective for 200 students across grades 6-8; together, they plan the garden plots using the planting square method; prepare compost tea, examine the impact of soil density on growing and adjust accordingly. Marc’s big final exam for his students in spring is having them grow a plant from seed to fruit, all on their own.
It takes a veritable village to grow a school garden, and while Marc led the charge, he was supported by a community of volunteers and school garden organizations, including Slow Food USA and Slow Food Miami. Slow Food USA was able to provide JFK Middle School with the seeds, and Slow Food Miami was able to go to the garden and grow alongside Marc and his students. Sean Reichert from Slow Food Miami has been particularly active in supporting Mr. Gauthier’s school garden. “Sean has donated countless hours to build, teach, guide and support students, teachers and schools in the importance of planting, growing and consuming fresh, real food,” said Christy Schiffer, Slow Food Miami’s marketing director. “He’s seen the garden program incorporated into the curriculum, and enhance student’s learning in important ways.”
For the last five years, Slow Food USA’s Plant a Seed program has provided free garden kits to over 100 school garden programs in the US. The Plant a Seed kits feature seeds from the Ark of Taste, a collection of important but endangered plants from around the world, and instructions and guidance on how to grow them. Schools are also provided access to resources like the Good and Clean curricula, which were developed by educators and volunteers in Slow Food USA’s School Garden Network.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, bringing kids to JFK Middle School to garden was out of the question. So instead, Marc hosted an outdoor fair where students safely picked up soil, seeds, sand and peat rock so that they could bring the school garden to the safety of their homes.
Managing a major outdoor school garden seems like a big enough lift for any educator, but Marc is taking things one step further: This year, he plans to bring his knowledge and passion for aquaponics to JFK Middle School and start an aquaponics program, where fish, water, and plants come together to help one another grow.