Say hello to Kris Potter, the first paid School Garden Coordinator in Clark County! I had the pleasure of meeting with Kris to discuss how she became a professional School Garden Coordinator at Battle Ground Public School's River Homelink. Kris shared tips and inspiration for planning school gardens and some stories from her experiences.
After spending valuable time raising her children, Kris began a new career in 2004 when she joined the staff at River HomeLink. In 2007, she began an AmeriCorps service program where she coordinated with the Clark County Composter Recyclers program and developed the Lasagna Gardening workshops. To this day, Kris continues to volunteer with the program every year to teach community members about lasagna gardening. All her hard work and dedication was recognized as the 2022 Master Composter Recyclers Superstar Volunteer.
After her service term with AmeriCorps, Kris coordinated a special two-year program installing raised garden beds and teaching income-qualified families how to grow their own vegetables. While simultaneously being the School Garden Coordinator at River HomeLink, Kris was valued for her knowledge about composting, recycling, and gardening.
With almost 20 years of experience, I was very excited to pick Kris's brain about the wisdom she has gained over the years. Below are some of Kris's most valuable tips for coordinating a school garden.
Additionally, Kris has some key pieces of advice for teachers and volunteers working to begin a school garden. Keep in mind some of the great ways a garden can be used to explore with children. Plants that give constant surprises are the best to grow in the school garden. For example, rainbow carrots grow in an assortment of colors— you never know what the next one will be! Edible flowers are great for encouraging kids to try new foods - it's always fun to walk in the garden and get a bite of something wild! Grow broccoli, it starts from such a tiny seed and grows into something big and strong! Witnessing the garden transform gives the students a wonderfully immersive experience. As recommended by Kris, a reference for education gardens from Oregon State University can be foundhere and a reference from the California School Garden Network can be found here.
Below are more resources from Kris's collection:
As many of you know, kids can be picky eaters! Kris fosters a safe space for trying new foods by letting students politely compost what they try and don't like. She finds that when the kids know about a non-consequential solution if they don't like the food, they are more willing to try it in the first place. Kris also enjoys cooking with her students. They often harvest from the garden and cook meals together in class. Kris even hosts a leaf-tasting event where students try leafy greens! She hears wonderful stories of students requesting to eat more veggies and help in the home kitchen. One of Kris's favorite moments from garden instruction involves a student who fell in love with fennel. Every day in the garden he would ask, "Ms. Potter, can I try the fennel?" and without a doubt, Kris would respond, "Yes, thank you for asking." After seeing this student's love for fennel whenever they went outside, Kris gifted his family a potted fennel plant. Within a week or so, the student's mother said he had eaten the plant down to the ground!
In December, I was lucky to attend one of Kris's lessons with her Nature Explorers class. One of my favorite things was each student, parent, and teacher had a 'nature name' used during class time. These names correspond to the first letter of your real name and can be any noun from nature. The nature names are a fun way for students to be creative, lift their spirits, and connect with the environments around them. Some favorites were Lion, Kale, Sparrow, Newt, Sapling, and Avocado.
Something Kris loves about working with students at River HomeLink is the importance of community building. In any classroom there can be stretches of family, from infants to grandparents, helping the teachers with lessons. The focus on building relationships and intergenerational learning, supports the fostering of curiosity within students throughout adolescence. Kris feels her students become lifelong learners through this style of school. She believes that without strong relationships, students will struggle to learn.
Having the opportunity to spend time with Kris will always leave you feeling inspired. She is a wellspring of gardening, composting, and local knowledge and always enjoys helping others begin projects of their own. While she cannot be everywhere at once (even though I'm sure she wishes she could), Kris is a valuable leader in our community.
Thank you, Kris, for sharing your story and knowledge with the Green School's community! We appreciate all you have worked to foster and create.
Contact Kris Potter
Contact Bekah Marten, WSU Clark County Extension School Garden Coordinator
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