‘It’s a unifying place’: Students ‘get their hands dirty’ with Archer’s garden committee

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Photo credit: Lucy Williams

Senior Bess Frierson, founder and leader of the garden committee, gets to work inspecting the vegetation in Archer’s garden. “I understand the importance of being connected to the earth, and I wanted to bring it to my peers,” she said.

By Lucy Williams, Staff Reporter

The popular gardening trend from the pandemic is here to stay, and Archer’s new garden committee is making sure that’s true for Archer. During Monday and Thursday lunches, a group of upper schoolers work on the blooming yard of vegetation in the back of the campus. Casey Huff, an environmental science teacher, strongly campaigned for the creation of this hands-on club.

“The garden committee is specifically focused on doing actual work in the garden. Planting, harvesting, thinking about seasonal produce,” Huff said. “It’s a club that’s all action-oriented; they want to get in there, get their hands dirty. They meet twice a week in the garden, actually working.”

Senior Bess Frierson, co-leader of the club, has a deep passion for agriculture. She started this club to incorporate firsthand sustainability into the Archer community and hopes to extend her passion into the years following her Archer career.

I’m hoping to major in agriculture and sustainable food systems. As someone who has witnessed a lot of people go through struggles with food, I understand the importance of healthy food and the importance of being connected to the earth,” Frierson said. “It’s really calming and it brings me a lot of joy, so I wanted to bring it to my peers.” 

Co-leader Zoe Bush is another senior invested in the environment- specifically, insects. She tends to the bugs that help the plants flourish and hopes to gain more experience caring for them during her work in the garden.

I’m very passionate about sustainable food systems, a big lover of the earth — I mean, we live on it,” Bush said. “I came aboard to look at insects and figure out how to best deal with them without killing them.  You need to appreciate all life out here. The plants and the bugs.”

The garden is at the core of Archer’s history, holding countless student memories since Archer was founded. Although the garden has come in many sizes and locations, the community has always recognized how beneficial it is to the campus. The garden committee will preserve its natural beauty and introduce more students to the space along the way.

“A few years ago, when we were in the classroom village, we had a small garden there,” Huff said. “Once we were relocated back to a more permanent space, Ms. English, Ms. Pav and a bunch of students and teachers were advocating to create space for a more permanent garden. Through the efforts of many students, student-leaders and the administrative team, we identified the existing space as a really good opportunity to expand the footprint and still allow a lot of student involvement.”

Gardening is a lot more than a hobby for many students at Archer, improving their mental and intellectual health. The natural space provides an opportunity for students to connect their classroom learning to real life, especially for students in environmental science classes. Huff also stresses the importance of this hands-on learning considering Archer students live in an urban area.

“In my mind, there is no better way to reinforce learning than to actually experience something. Sustainability is about having that connection with a real-world example and being able to physically touch something,” Huff said. “Secondly, it’s a beautiful space for students, faculty and staff to come together and be outdoors. We spend so much time inside, in front of screens, so an outdoor space is important.”

Since most of the Archer community lives in Los Angeles, Huff recognizes the distance urban-influenced students have from the farming industry. Students are so surrounded by city life, and Huff said it’s important to take a second and think about the work behind the food that nourishes us every day.

“In an urban environment like Los Angeles, we’ve become so disconnected from where our food comes from the effort and care that goes into growing and picking our food,” Huff said. “It’s a really important reminder that one, we are incredibly capable of doing it, and two, it’s a really important part of our society.

The board of the club has big plans to get the whole community involved in the future. Events including winter harvests and specific environmental programs would help to create a dynamic system for upkeeping the space.

“A secondary goal of the garden committee is to create a seed-saving program,” Huff said. “We would take seeds from things we grow in our Archer garden, save them, replant them and create this ongoing system of storage and a history of all of the produce.” 

Bess Frierson initially presented to the upper school about the club when it was launching in October. She provided some overall goals and details as a teaser for students interested. She believes more student involvement is crucial and wants to speak again.

“We’re hoping to present again more in-depth about different topics on sustainability at class meetings,” Frierson said. “They tend to just get people interested, and hopefully, they’ll join. They can learn a lot more when they come to the club.”

The garden committee will continue to welcome students into the garden to make lasting memories and new bonds. They intend to use green space to serve our community while teaching them valuable sustainability skills.

“It’s a unifying place; you can take what you’re learning in science classes and bring it to life in the garden,” Bush said. “Nature is awesome, and it’s fun to be out here.”