Within the first full month of the new school year, a local nonprofit specializing in school gardens and related curriculum has experienced an unprecedented growth spurt thanks to a new collaboration.
The Green Heart Project is partnering with SeamonWhiteside, a Mount Pleasant-based civil engineering and landscape architecture firm, to build three new, multi-phased school gardens this year.
The first phases of the gardens at two of those three schools — one at Sullivan’s Island Elementary and another at Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood in North Charleston — were built with staff and volunteers from both the nonprofit and the firm over the past two weekends.
Those first phases were raised beds, featuring a water-saving, “wicking” irrigation system. Subsequent phases call for a native species gardens and orchards.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, staff from Green Heart and SeamonWhiteside are set to join Charleston County School District and Brentwood staff for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the school on Leeds Avenue.
Green Heart Director Drew Harrison said the third school to get a garden, or “micro-farm,” has yet to be determined but that it will be constructed by the end of the school year.
Regardless, the addition of three new gardens will expand the number of schools that Green Heart has branched out to seven. It started with Charleston’s Mitchell Elementary in 2009 and added Zucker Middle School in 2013.
Last winter, Green Heart started gardens at Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School in Charleston and Windwood Farm Home for Children in Awendaw.
The latest expansion, Harrison said, is largely due to SeamonWhiteside, which has signed on to be a “community partner,” contributing the equivalent of $25,000 of in-kind services.
SeamonWhiteside assisted through the entire garden design process, including an architectural consultation, charrette, construction drawings and budgeting.
“It has been huge to have SeamonWhiteside come out and help with the design and construction of the gardens,” Harrison said.
Those services come, coincidentally, in the wake of the school district’s new, 60-page manual outlining requirements for school gardens. Harrison added that the manual, which was delivered to Green Heart in late July, was larger and more detailed than he had anticipated.
The Green Heart and SeamonWhiteside collaboration got started, Harrison added, through common connections through the University of Georgia landscape architecture school.
Russ Seamon, the firm’s director of projects, said the firm became interested in helping children learn about healthy food by combining its design expertise with Green Heart’s farming knowledge.
“This partnership gives us the opportunity to give back to our community by doing what we love — building meaningful spaces for people,” Seamon said.
Meanwhile, the effort also gives employees of SeamonWhiteside an opportunity to volunteer together in a hands-on project.
That kind of experience is integral to Green Heart’s approach to teaching students not only about the value of healthy, locally grown food but through related classroom curriculum, teamwork, respect and entrepreneurship.
“From seed to harvest, students participate in every aspect of the agricultural project,” said Harrison.