My name is Sheri Cooper. Officially, I am the Employability and Transition Counselor for Science Hill High School and the Build It Up, East Tennessee Market Garden Coordinator; but, in reality, most people call me Cooper. My best days are filled with students and families learning and growing with the sweet opportunity of life. I predominantly work with youth ages 12-21 who have interest in our fast-growing local food movement. Last year we were awarded a generous grant from the Washington County Community Foundation to help fund paid internships for our students, so now our school garden project has expanded into helping hands for our community.
Currently, we have 11 students who have been awarded paid internships in all facets of local food from farm hand to market manager.I often hear comments like “When kids attend school for 12 years and graduate, they are just not prepared for the real world; ” and to combat this attitude our students maintain academic success while gaining and promoting healthy life skills of team leadership, personal responsibility, personal finance and accountability, hands-on employment training, applying logic and higher level learning to find solutions in evidence-based research, feeding and nurturing themselves with clean, local based food and community, and overcoming obstacles by reaching out and taking part in our local economy.
Each of our students takes part in healthy cooking culinary training that expands their knowledge of proper diet and healthy living while teaching them simple methods of preparing the food they grow and share to also taste great.
Students learn to grown their own food of choice from seed to harvest, giving them the opportunity to apply academic science, math and leadership training to the many “on campus” experiments we develop for better produce packaging, higher produce volume in smaller urban spaces, produce quality control and eco-efficient packing, best seed varieties, saved seed evaluations, testing of natural “old timer” remedies for pest and disease control, along with our own vermiculture, seed saving, and composting.
Students have avenues to sell their excess produce for profit and take part in small business training at our local Boone Street Market Farm Store, Local Farm to Table events and the school Foodtopia Student Marketgarden.
The student lead Foodtopia Market Garden puts students and local backyard gardeners to work supplying local restaurants, CSA’s and community grocery subscriptions with fresh, local food and gives students the opportunity to go work and earn with local farms and local, like-minded community members.
Students realize the hard work, intent, and effort required to maintain and promote life. Students gain respect for nature and therefore themselves and one another, retain motivation through creative discipline and friendly competition, (there is nothing more fun that listening to students argue over who’s seedlings are the strongest, or who harvested the most red buds for jam), open bank accounts for their earnings, budget resources and funds for both school and personal projects, network in the community through valuable service learning and internships for which THEY chose, receive at least 3 hours of students professional development per week and accidentally get prepared for the “real world.” All because we decided to start a garden in 2003. Nurturing isn’t all about hand to mouth, sometimes it’s about mind your matter….. but our foods sure are good!