This morning I met and interviewed with Tom Braverman who is a special education teacher at City High in Iowa City. Tom also directs the school’s Best Buddies program which pairs students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with their peers from the general student body. In addition to working together on various projects and other activities, the Bust Buddies students are also in charge of maintaining the student garden at City.
While the direct tie to Scott Koepke is slightly weaker with Tom than it has been with my other interviewees, Scott’s influence has likely helped to at least partially lay the groundwork for City’s student garden. Tom said Scott will visit City’s botany class roughly once a trimester to teach students about plants, gardening, and composting.
Even though some of the students in the Best Buddies program may not be in attendance for Scott’s presentation, they likely share a similar passion for gardening since their work in the student garden is on an extracurricular basis. The garden consists of two self-watering gardening tables roughly five feet by five feet . Since the soil on these tables is less than a foot deep, this area is used to grow various herbs as well lettuce on occasion. In addition to the gardening tables, the student garden also consists of two plots which are roughly four feet by eight feet and are used for tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables.
Unlike the area’s elementary schools – which are generally inhabited year-round because of summer care programs – City High students are usually not at the school during the summer months. This means that responsibility for maintaining the gardens falls in the hands of Tom and the school’s custodians. Though not required to do so, Tom said that City High student Michael McCoullough has volunteered his time in the past.
The garden has hoses that are hooked up to electrical timers so the vegetables can be watered at times when someone cannot physically be there to do so. District regulations regarding fertilizer and other gardening techniques prevent City’s cafeteria from being able to use the produce from the garden so most of it is donated to the Johnson County Crisis Center.
In addition to the student garden, some of Tom’s students also get first-hand farm experience at Friendly Farm in Iowa City which is operated by Tom’s brother Nathan. This is part of a program that gives students real world experience working with about a dozen organizations in the Iowa City area. In the past, Tom’s students have teamed up University of Iowa engineering students to plant pawpaw (papaya) trees as part of an erosion mitigation effort on the farm. The program aims to teach students about potential career opportunities for after they graduate from City.
Again, Scott’s connection here is not quite as pronounced as it has been with other sources but it’s likely that Scott’s influence has helped to develop City’s student garden into what it is today. Over the next month I will begin conducting formal interviews and shooting video for my documentary and I have scheduled to meet up with Tom again in two weeks to do so. I hope that Tom (and the teachers I’ve spoken with) will be able to put me in touch with students so I can also get their insight about Scott and gardening. With just over a month before we present our projects, I’m ready to start putting mine together now so I’m not rushing to get it done at the last minute!