Profile In Innovation: Plant the Seed

Some might define Nashville’s It-ness by the hundreds of organizations that have aligned their mission around the needs of schools and their students. Our schools are largely filled with students from low-income families and in a city like Nashville where the poor gets poorer, the myriad of social ills that plague our community at large show up in our classrooms. As a result, schools are filled with nonprofits and agencies contracted to respond and remedy.

With the growth in homelessness, student mobility, food insecurity, Adverse Childhood Effects, children with incarcerated parents, policies that destroy immigrant families (I could go on), our students need wraparound services more than ever. Yet, they still must be educated and enriched! Because no two students or life experiences are alike, schools that operate within the safety of microwaved, one-size-fits-all curriculum and practices provide a fatal disservice to students who may require creative instruction and curriculum. Because creativity threatens the status quo, out-of-the-box programming is not always encouraged or supported.

But there are exceptions!

Plant the Seed🌱

A few years ago, in partnership with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, the district committed to opening early learning centers under the direction of my good friend Lisa Wiltshire. While these centers added to the number of pre-k seats, the stand-alone schools would also provide a high-quality curriculum. As part of this, the crazy smart Wiltshire decided to include garden-based learning and she knew exactly the person for the job. Enter Susannah Fotopulos, a food-security expert who, at the time, was spending her time sowing and sharing culturally-relevant food instruction to students at a Nashville Islamic private school.

Susannah Fotopolous
Plant the Seed director Susannah Fotopolous and her children. (Photo from Plant the Seed website)

Having worked only with older students, Fotopulos crafted a garden-based curriculum to align with standards appropriate for preschoolers. In 2014, Plant the Seed became an official Metro Schools program providing ‘edible education” at the newly opened early learning centers.

At each location, a Plant the Seed instructor delivers a garden-based curriculum that stretches across several standards such as literacy, math, science and social studies. The little gardeners plant seeds, maintain gardens, and harvest food “connecting them to the land, their education, and one another.” To wit, four-year-olds get to play in dirt, learn something, and eat or take home the product. Sweet.

Littlest Gardeners

Last Spring I had the pleasure of watching little hands in action at Ross Early Learning Center in East Nashville. Filling their pails with recycled rainwater, the gardeners eagerly watered the tomato and strawberry plants unabashedly showing off months of hard work. The garden also has blueberry plants, wildflowers, lemon balm, lavender, and acorn. Plant the Seed also teaches sustainability, so nothing goes to waste.  In addition to plant-based education, students are exposed to beekeeping (“our most important pollinators”) and the Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center collaborates with the Bordeaux Public Library in raising chickens! Watch as NewsChannel 5 visits the Davis students at the Bordeaux Library. click here to watch the report.


Today, Plant the Seed operates in 6 schools and 3 public libraries where nearly 1,000 students participate in a program that steps outside a traditional curriculum by offering a seed-to-table experience. Additionally, Plant the Seed instructors train Metro School teachers on the garden-based learning model. Listen to principal Dalila Duarte’s testimony about the importance of Plant the Seed at Casa Azafrán Early Learning Center.

Fight for Innovation

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Plant the Seed board – a decision that was not difficult to make. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of our schools satisfying the definition of insanity. If we are serious about exceeding expectations, then we have to fight for innovative opportunities and support out-of-the-box initiatives. With the introduction and protection of a program like Plant the Seed, the district demonstrates a willingness to exceed expectations through innovative inclusivity.

“Why on earth if not to grow?

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