Teacher Spotlight on LaTosha Hayes of Gateway Elementary

Blog Teacher Spotlight LaTosha Hayes


Interview with LaTosha Hayes, 4th grade teacher at Gateway Elementary in St. Louis, MO, about how she personally became involved with the school’s garden.


How long have you been gardening? 

This will be my first full year. A few years ago, another group came in and started working with us in the greenhouse but that wasn’t a full year. 

What sparked your interest?

Learning about the value of eating healthy and the harm it causes when we don’t.  I’ve been a teacher for 11 years and have come to realize that we’re targeting curriculum backward. “Data Driven” is a mantra that’s heard in many districts. Unfortunately not too many schools or districts are focused on many factors that impact education such as nutrition.

Blog LaTosha Hayes 03We had a dental clinic visit the school one time and there were kids with multiple cavities, it was when I learned what a root canal was, and obviously it all came back to what the kids are eating and their oral hygiene. We know a lot of the things are the shelves are not good for kids and so they don’t have the nutrients that they need to come to school ready to learn.  Some kids are inattentive, hyperactive, unmotivated, tired, and/or hungry.  Even though we know the importance of eating healthy foods and how it can impact student’s education, teachers are still evaluated on classroom management and whether students achieve academic success.  We need to focus on what’s literally going into them. We can help kids succeed by educating them about food and preparation. Taking students outside to garden lets them get natural sunlight, burn calories, explore, care for living things, and what everyone loves to do – EAT.  I think all students prefer edible assignments.

We need nutrition education as much as PE and counselors and it needs to start in Pre-K. Teaching kids how to grow and cook their food and that will bring families back to the kitchen table.  It is prevention rather than intervention and treatment for diet related illnesses.


What is the most worthwhile part of gardening with your class?

Empowering students through nutrition and developing healthy habits that can positively impact generations to come, having them do something other than play video games and watching TV at home, to have an interest in growing their own food. I look forward to having them investigate and come up with questions. I think that they will start making changes in their lives and share it with others and it will have a domino effect on the community. I want students to talk to each other but I want them to talk about healthy things, like food. 

The other thing that is good about this process is that students are learning that I am still a student as well. They are observing that even adults are learning and we all have road blocks and anxiety and need others to help us learn. 

I am looking forward to learning more about the science of plants (composting, cross pollination, etc.) and getting out of the classroom, getting students out of their seats. That is where education really starts, from birth, genuine learning occurs in the home, neighborhood, and community.

Kids learning how to garden will yield benefits in the classroom because students will have better nutrition and be better rested.


Blog LaTosha Hayes with StudentsWhat are you looking forward to planting with your class?

We are going to grow peas but I want to grow a bit of everything, maybe blueberries. I definitely want to grow green leafy vegetables, spinach, collards, kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, melons.  I want a colorful garden so students will be inspired to have a colorful plate and learn which fruit or vegetable is providing what nutrient. 


What do teachers need most in order to use a school garden successfully?

A curriculum. All of the teachers I’ve talked to have an interest but don’t have the know-how and need support. Curriculum and support from GGI. It would be great if the district adopted a garden/nutrition curriculum for elementary school so children would develop healthy habits.


Interview with LaTosha Hayes conducted by Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager, in February 2017.

Farm Manager Rachel Deffenbaugh says Farewell

Blog, Rachel Deffenbaugh says Farewell

Gateway Greening Urban Farm Manager Rachel Deffenbaugh, teaching harvesting techniques to City Seeds Therapeutic Job Training ’16 clients. Photo Credit Deer Hart Photography.


Dear Gateway Greening Community,


It has been my sincere pleasure to work with you for the last 6+ years. I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Gateway Greening in 2010 and in 2011 I became the Farm Manager for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. I have grown and evolved, along with the scope of my position. As of February 27th 2017, I am transitioning to manage the Therapeutic Horticulture program at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

This change is bittersweet for me. I am excited for the new opportunities and challenges that will be afforded to me at the Missouri Botanical Garden. However, Gateway Greening has been a formative and inspirational place to work. It will always hold a place in my heart and I hope to maintain a strong relationship with the organization and the people involved.

Genuinely, thank you for making my time with Gateway Greening a valuable and impactful experience.



Rachel Deffenbaugh


Students Planning School Garden Crops

In preparation for the fast approaching growing season, 2nd and 3rd graders at Mallinckrodt Academy have been making some important decisions about what they want to grow in their school garden this year.

Gateway Greening has an excellent planting calendar to show a when different varieties of vegetables can be started indoors, transplanted or directly sown into the garden, their grow time and even when students should harvest.

The second graders formed groups, and were offered a selection of pictures of vegetables cut from old seed catalogs. The students needed to work together to come to an agreement as to what crop they would grow. Next came locating the plant on the planting calendar and discovering necessary information for growing the crop they chose by utilizing the key. “The key unlocks it all!” explained one student.

Each group will have a chance to share their findings and tape the picture of their chosen veggie to the month when we need to start planting.

Planning School Garden Crops

Students at Mallinckrodt Academy using a planting calendar to plan their 2017 crops for the school garden.

The third graders took this a step further, deciding how they would make the most of their available garden space based on the information from the graph. The students applied what they learned about sequential planting to choose three vegetables that will be able to grow in the same space based on the time they are planted and harvested. In this way, the students will be able to grow 3 separate crops in the garden this year.

In addition to being a great way to involve the Mallinckrodt Academy students in the ownership of their garden, this lesson encourages students to learn and practice: interpreting information from graphs, collaborating with group members, public speaking, and decision making. The school garden is a great place to learn and practice these skills which are all transferable to other areas in the classroom and everyday life.

Written by Meg Holmes, Gateway Greening Youth Educator