ASAP likes to share the stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. This month—National Farm to School month!—we’re talking to Nichole Efird, a pre-K teacher with the Cherokee Elementary in the Qualla Boundary. Nichole is part of the 2022-23 Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, which connects outstanding educators with mentors, creating opportunities and relationships to help students understand how STEM concepts apply in the real world. Nichole’s mentor was Jennifer Trippe, ASAP’s Growing Minds Program Director. She’s pictured at ASAP’s Farm Fresh for Health Regional Symposium at KT’s Orchard and Apiary.
What kinds of farm to school activities do you do with your pre-K students?
I love ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to Preschool Toolkit! It has some really amazing lesson plans that are engaging and aligned to early childhood standards. I implement as many farm to school activities as possible throughout the school year. A few fruits and vegetables we learn about include apples, pumpkins, corn, and berries—life cycles, recipes, and all of the products that come from these items. I share everything I can about fresh produce, including making cultural connections to how the Cherokee people grew and used many different crops. I also like to visit local farms so that my young students have the opportunity to connect with the farmers in our community.
During our recent study on apples I had one student ask if they could grow apples at their house. It opened up a group discussion about where to find apples and who had apple trees at their house. That same student made the connection and it was amazing. She said, “So if I grow an apple tree, I will always have some apples!” It was a proud teacher moment for me!
What’s going on in the garden right now?
Our garden is going through a transition right now. The students that helped to build the original garden have moved up a grade. The students that I have now got to enjoy the fruits of their labor. We were able to harvest our corn, green beans, squash, and a ton of marigolds after school started back in the fall. I spent the summer tending the garden to make sure it was ready for the new year. After we gathered our produce, we had a garden clean-up. We share the space with the high school ag program and Life Skills class. We are going to bring in fresh soil, repair garden boxes and complete some much-needed upgrades to the area. We will be able to replant in the spring.
What are some of the ways you’ve brought your experiences as a Kenan Fellow with ASAP’s Growing Minds back into the classroom?
As a lifelong learner, I am always interested in growing as an educator, learning and processing how I can use new content in my classroom. One area that I wanted to grow in was my knowledge of how the Cherokee people used and implemented various agricultural practices and to ensure that we have future generations of Cherokee farmers. I felt like there was a great opportunity to start a love of agriculture in the early years instead of waiting to get students interested in the topic in middle or high school. Being a part of the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leaders has opened so many doors for me to grow in this area. Partnering with ASAP for my internship has provided me with a wealth of knowledge on local farms, farm resources, and what it truly means to eat local. The internship has given me the opportunity to build community partnerships with these local farmers, learn about all of the items grown in Western North Carolina and how much these farms do. I am able to take these experiences back into the classroom through new lesson plans, hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities, and new vocabulary with the addition of Cherokee language.