Faces of Local: Heather Gast

ASAP likes to share the stories of people who are contributing to the local food system. As part of our National Farm to School Month celebration, we’re talking to Heather Gast, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Weaverville Primary School (that’s Sebastian, the class sloth on her left). She’s working with Growing Minds to make sure her students experience local food, farms, and gardening, even as they adjust to virtual learning.

What does teaching kindergarten and first grade look like for you these days?
Very different! This semester I’m teaching a K/1 virtual-only combination class. That means, most days, my assistant and I do six live Zoom sessions, film lessons, and interact with our student’s work via iPads. It’s a whole new world, but amazingly the students are embracing it in ways I was not expecting. They show up to Zooms ready to work with smiles on their faces! I’ve been overwhelmed by how attached you can get to the students without being together physically. 

Your students have set up container gardens at home. What have they (and you!) learned from that experience?

I have always loved for families to be involved in our classroom and this has definitely taken that to a whole new level! I hope that the parents have enjoyed it as much as their children. I’ve been thrilled to see the children get to take on more of a leadership role in the process this year. We have a few students each week “share” their containers on our Garden Zoom call and talk about their progress. We’ve covered many things that haven’t been issues in typical years…such as answering questions about pests getting in the plants and learning the true science lesson of moving gardens to get more sunshine. 
What have you and the students harvested?
Each student has begun harvesting red lettuce, green lettuce, and kale. It has been wonderful to see all the families enjoying the vegetables! Usually we have a feast in the room on harvest days and send home some things when we can, but watching siblings and parents get to be part of the deliciousness has been magical. We are harvesting bok choy that grew at the school garden space this week (students can come over the weekend and harvest a head for their families). They each have a cabbage that will be ready closer to Thanksgiving. In a few weeks, we will plant radish seeds from our ASAP goodie bags! 
Are there other ways you have been able to incorporate farm to school themes into your virtual classrooms? 
We have been doing virtual garden tours, which is very exciting! This will be a great way to continue our garden learning in the winter months. We plan on utilizing that as our garden is dormant. Our school garden and container gardens all have some compost from Last Penny Farm Alpacas and in the coming weeks we will be touring their farm thanks to the Meet Your Farmer videos from Growing Minds! 

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