A Student Becomes the Teacher

By Veralea Swayne, Garden Educator

10 years ago, I built a raised bed garden and planted beans, lettuce, carrots and spinach. I was full of excitement and eagerly anticipated the bounty that the upcoming growing season would bring. I had mixed success that first year, but I was determined to try again and was motivated to learn more about how to successfully grow food organically.

These days, I grow all kinds of vegetables, give my neighbors tips on growing food, and share some of my excess with them, the food bank or store it in my freezer. What made the difference? I found Seattle Tilth’s Comprehensive Organic Gardener (COG) course and signed up in the fall of 2005.


COG gave me the foundation I needed to be a successful food gardener. It is designed for beginner to intermediate gardeners and I definitely felt like the beginner in that class. I soaked up everything we talked about and practiced in Seattle Tilth’s learning garden at Bradner Gardens: composting, cover cropping, crop rotation, starting seeds indoors and direct-sowing in the garden and year-round gardening (Really? You can do that?? I grew up in the Midwest and there is just one gardening season – the one where you grow tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers – or what we call the “warm season” here in the Pacific Northwest).

Each year since then, I have put that knowledge to use and grow greens galore, many root crops, a variety of beans, squash, herbs, and for the last few years, sweet peppers. I always try at least one new thing each year – either a new crop or refining the way I grow something. Last year, I grew 4 red and 3 orange pepper plants and from just those 7 plants, I harvested 100 red peppers and 50 orange peppers! Yes, I was proud.

Since completing COG, I have done a lot of reading about organic gardening and farming. There is so much to learn about soil and nutrients and the interconnected network of living organisms. I love it. The natural world is an amazing teacher!


Now, I’ve come full circle from novice student to informed gardener – and have been one of the teachers of COG for Seattle Tilth for the past 3 years. The questions asked by our students give me pause to think, and inspire me to keep learning and looking for answers. When we ask the students why they are taking the class, it is for many of the same reasons that I chose to start growing food: “I want to know where my food comes from”, “I don’t want to be dependent on the industrial food system”, “I want to save money.” It makes me happy to initiate a few more organic gardeners into a way of life that used to be common. And it makes me hopeful when I hear so many ideas about what students are going to do with this reclaimed knowledge.

What better way to renew your own commitment, every day, to making the world a better place, than by growing food in your own backyard (or deck – or balcony)? This is one piece of our local food system that you can directly participate in. Roll up your sleeves and dig in — we hope to see you in our Comprehensive Organic Gardener course this fall!


Read more about Veralea on the Seattle Parks & Recreation blog.

Comprehensive Organic Gardener

Amaranth teamWednesdays and Saturdays, September 10-October 1
Wednesday classes, 7-9 p.m.
Saturday classes, 10 a.m.-3 pm.
Good Shepherd Center, Room 107
4649 Sunnyside Ave N
Advanced registration required.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s