Parents attend Dawes Elementary School garden meet and greet


Sara Aie/The Daily Northwestern

The Dawes school garden sign stands in the middle of the garden as parents and coordinators toured around. Parents gathered to learn about programming from garden coordinators.

Sarah Aie, Reporter

The tomatoes, chives and peppers in Evanston’s oldest school garden received visitors Tuesday night as parents gathered at Dawes Elementary School to discuss the garden and learn how to stay engaged with future programming.

Lynn Hyndman founded the Dawes garden 17 years ago. At the time, she was a Dawes science lab teacher, and she said she was inspired by a teacher from Chute Middle School to create the space. 

“I was really focused on using the outdoors as a classroom, feeling that we ought to take advantage of this wonderful resource we have where you can teach across the curriculum,” Hyndman said. “So the idea of gardening really excited me.”

Hyndman began writing curricula about implementing outdoors learning into the classroom. As time went on, she said teachers from other schools became interested. Now, there are 12 volunteer-driven gardens across Evanston/Skokie School District 65, as part of Schools are Gardening in Evanston.

These gardens teach children valuable lessons, said Dawes school garden coordinator Tabitha Bonilla. She guided parents through the garden on Tuesday, explaining how it’s organized into three sections: edible produce like mint and cucumbers, the pollinator garden which includes sunflowers and native plants like milkweed and aster. 

After the garden tour, attendees and coordinators from across the district discussed funding.

Some garden coordinators noted the difficulty of increasing the garden budget, especially through receiving grants. Currently, the Dawes school garden is running on a $1,000 annual budget from the Parent-Teacher Association, according to Bonilla. Most recently, funds were used to replace the plastic-raised produce beds with new, wooden ones. 

Parents and coordinators also brainstormed strategies to encourage more community involvement. Dawes, among other District 65 gardens, has donated produce to community fridges throughout Evanston this year. 

SAGE committee member Jill Zifkin said COVID-19 opened up the gardens more to the community, rather than just to students.

“There’s a need for help and a need for food,” Zifkin said. “This is a great sort of combination between the school and the larger community. In our time where food shortages are well known, now I’m hearing more and more of excess food being used, given away.”

Over the past few months, Bonilla also organized several cultural events. For Latinx Heritage Month, she hosted a salsa-making event using hot peppers grown from the garden. Other programming included language nights, in which attendees exclusively spoke in certain languages like Spanish, and a celebration of African American folk painter Horace Pippin with fish peppers named after him.

Dawes parent Nikki McDaid also taught a lesson using Indigenous STEAM curriculum, Bonilla said.

Bonilla said she’s looking forward to continuing programming that will make the garden as inclusive and welcoming as possible. 

“I think we have a unique responsibility to make sure that programming is representative of our school communities,” Bonilla said. “We’ve been using (the garden) as a space to go beyond the conversation about plants and the science behind the plants and hopefully make the space cross-cultural.” 

Ultimately, Hyndman said the mission of SAGE is to “bring the classroom out into the garden and bring the garden back into the classroom.”  

“Children, when they’re very young, are full of wonder and that so often is stamped out of them as they move through the school system. (School gardens can) capitalize on all their excitement and thrill about, not just growing the plants but the bees and the butterflies,” Hyndman said. “Build on that interest and their sense of wonder early on, and you’ve given them a gift for life.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the content of the lesson taught by Nikki McDaid and used a former version of her last name. McDaid taught a lesson using Indigenous STEAM curriculum and spells their name as McDaid. The Daily regrets the error. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @sarahaie_

Related Stories:

West End Garden seeks to bring justice-focused community gardening to Evanston

Student-run garden Wild Roots serves NU and Evanston with harvesting programs