Rocky Branch Elementary – Georgia
So what do you do when you’ve spent the last eleven years as a teacher coordinating the Katie’s Krops garden at your elementary school, using it as a tool for STEM curriculum, but COVID shuts down the school? You start a summer camp program at your home on your farm, of course! That’s what Shawna McGrath, a 3rd-grade teacher at Rocky Branch Elementary in Georgia, did.
The Katie’s Krops garden at Rocky Branch Elementary started eleven years ago when Shawna applied to several organizations for grants to start a school garden. After not receiving a single grant, Shawna saw Katie Stagliano, the founder of Katie’s Krops, on a Disney Channel show. She immediately changed tactics. Her students wrote the grant request to Katie’s Krops. Their application was successful, and, yes, they did feel rather superior since their teacher had not been. The funds that the class received were used to build the first school garden at Rocky Branch. The students planned what to grow and did the planting. This was not only a new venture for Shawna and the school; it was a new venture for Katie’s Krops because this was the first school to receive funding to start a garden. The garden has been very successful, and Katie herself visited the school several years ago to see the students in action and share her book, Katie’s Cabbage. The students who were awarded that very first grant graduated high school last year, leaving behind a tremendous legacy.
As the years passed, the garden expanded using sustainable funding from Katie’s Krops. Members of the school’s gardening club tend to the garden, while the cooking club used the produce to prep meals for five families associated with the school.
Shawna’s classroom includes a grow light to grow seedlings while others are grown in the school greenhouse. A multitude of crops are grown year-round, and everything was going great until 2020, and COVID hit, and the school shut down on March 16, 2020. Everyone thought it would be for just a week or two, but as we all know, it was not. The school remained closed until the start of the 2020-21 school year. Teachers were given a three-hour window to retrieve all the supplies they needed from their classrooms for remote learning. Shawna and other teachers used part of that time to plant the seedlings that had been started at the school. They were also allowed on campus in June to harvest the crops, including kale, snow peas, lettuce, and spinach. No other school gardening was permitted during the summer.
As in most, if not all, areas of the United States, the need for food exploded as businesses shut down and people were out of work. That’s when Shawna had the inspiration to start her summer camp focused on gardening. People were already seeking her out for advice on planting backyard gardens, but she wanted to do more than that. During the spring, she had her land rezoned and obtained a permit to run the camp. Parents were eager – okay, desperate – for some activity for their children, and there were no problems finding students in the 1st to 6th grades to attend. Each week of the five-week camp saw a different group of 8 to 10 attendees, with the older students helping the younger children as needed. They grew a “giving garden,” and the vegetables grown were combined with grocery store donations to help families in need via the local “Food for Kids” program.
In addition to the food grown at the school, the farm allowed them to grow crops that take up more space, including melons, corn, and sweet potatoes, the latter in towers made of old tires. Shawna taught other strategies, such as “Three Sisters Planting,” where corn, beans, and squash are grown together and benefit each other.
In-person instruction resumed last fall, but things are not the same. School clubs are not permitted this year, so Shawna’s class and other interested students work in the garden during recess and incorporate this activity into their math and science curriculum. Their fall garden produced lettuce, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and radishes and the spring garden is well underway.