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Faces of Local: Karen Chapman

Karen Chapman

ASAP likes to share the stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. This month we talk with Karen Chapman, the garden coordinator at W.D. Williams Elementary School in Swannanoa, N.C.

Tell us about your garden.
 
I was inspired to do a school garden when I attended the Environmental Educators of North Carolina conference right before COVID happened. The presenter was a AP Biology teacher at the Enka High School. She was able to create a beautiful vegetable and pollinator garden that the students were involved in maintaining. The presentation got my brain thoughts turning as to how I could have a vegetable and pollinator garden at W.D. Williams.
 
I got permission from our school principal. First grade teacher Sarah Torry and I sat together and wrote a grant for the Master Gardeners program, which we were awarded in spring of 2020. I planted black-eyed susans, echinacea, red okra, fox glove, milkweed, beans, peas, and spinach. Then, COVID disrupted all of my activities planned for students to participate in the garden. I had no student participation during the spring, summer, or fall of 2020.
 
Then in spring of 2021, when all the students were [back in person], I was able to get several grade levels planting seeds as starters in their classrooms. With the help of ASAP’s Growing Minds, which gave us free seeds, each class was able to plant radishes, spinach, beans, peas, flower mixes, lettuce, and squash.
 
What are some things you learned during the process?
 
Some things that I have learned is to make sure the beds have new soil, nitrogen, fertilizer, and compost mixed in with old soil in order to cultivate plant growth. Another thing I have learned is to plant seeds as starts instead of just putting seeds in the ground, because sometimes the seeds don’t germinate, so it leaves an empty space in the beds. Third thing I learned, it is good to network with schools and community organizations such as Environmental Educators of NC, Master Gardeners, and ASAP to get the help I need! And the last thing: I appreciate the rain that falls. I like to watch the plants perk up and grow!
 
What are some of your gardening successes and challenges?
 
Some of my gardening successes have been that I had red okra plants grow very tall! I have been able to manage five beds with different flowers, pollinator plants, and vegetables. I was able to successfully get rid of invasive mint plants in one of the beds by pouring horticultural vinegar in the soil and covering it with plastic for a year. Trying to keep the weeds down is always a challenge!
 
How have you seen the gardening experience help kids learn and experience new things?
 
Gardening is fun, hands-on learning. The students painted rocks to decorate the garden beds. They like to water the garden beds. I show students how to dig small, medium and large holes in the soil to plant their seeds. I have observed that students like to kill bugs and worms, but I have learned to teach them that whenever there are a lot of bugs and worms in the soil, that means the soil is good!
 
What will happen in the garden over the summer?
 
Our last day of school is June 1, so I will be maintaining the garden beds from June to August. Students will be able to see garden growth during the summer, but unfortunately they will not have access to it, because there will only be limited staff in the building during the summer. I am hoping in the fall of 2021 I will have vegetables ready for the students to taste.