On June 29, 2013, VMDO employees along with volunteers from the University of Nebraska and the Buckingham community came together for a hands-on garden build-out project at Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools. Specifically, the assembled team worked to build the school Kitchen Gardens in preparation for summer school STEM-based garden learning activities.

The Kitchen Gardens is one of several edible-oriented gardens that make up the educational landscape. Exciting up-and-coming plant life includes “Grab and Go” garden blueberries, Paw Paw Trees, Enterprise Apples, Chickasaw Plums, and edible flowers that bring shade and native food experiences to eco-walks, jogging paths, and play terraces.

The Kitchen Gardens will bring unlimited opportunities for experiential learning and innovative teaching to the space – where the creative designer in each person can emerge in this hands-on “maker-space” of soil, sun, water, seeds, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and associated pollinators and animal life.

This kitchen garden is more than an outdoor classroom; it is a living lab that will enable educators to engage in the design process and launch fresh, structured approaches to crafting educational moments. In other words, the gardens will help prompt “design thinking for educators.”

As a place of beauty and sensorial delight, the garden teaches all of us how joyful, playful, and exciting it is to learn by nature’s design. Being together in the edible garden lab is an opportunity to celebrate the designer in everyone by generating new ideas, experimenting (bringing those ideas to life), testing the meaning of unexpected outcomes, and sharing stories to make connections. Bringing kids into direct experiential contact with the seed-to-table activities and healthy, fresh food also has a proven positive impact on health, well being, and nutrition awareness that will last a child a lifetime.

Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO recently posted his thoughts on what gardening, design, and creative leadership have in common and asks the question: What personal pursuits have helped you with leadership challenges?

For Tim, the garden and creative leadership connection is a 3-point observation:

  • Gardening is generative, iterative, and user-centered.
  • Gardening helps us frame future design challenges.
  • Gardening teaches us how to be creative leaders.

What is the big (edible) take away? Whether it’s The Center for Ecoliteracy’s guiding holistic principle that “Nature Is Our Teacher” or Tim Brown’s recent article on garden lessons for creative leadership, the garden is clearly a gift for creative epiphany, actionable change, and lifelong learning. So. What garden epiphany will you have this weekend?

by Dina Sorensen, LEED AP, Project Designer