“I was a first-grade special education teacher in an inclusive classroom, and the lessons in the books weren’t connecting with them,” said founder Sonya Harris. “So I thought gardening would be great way to make the lesson exciting.”
The issue was that Harris was far from an experienced gardener and didn’t know where to start. She said she reached out to Ahmad Hassan who hosted “Yard Crashers” on HGTV and the DIY Network to get tips because she was a fan of his.
“He gave me books and articles to read about gardening with children and the value of outdoor education, and it was in 2014 in January when he was at the home show in Philadelphia and asked if me and a few teachers want to meet to plan this out,” Harris said.
She met with him, and shortly thereafter the garden was started at Bullock Elementary School in Glassboro, which is where the project’s name stemmed from. Harris then rounded up support from Mullica Hill resident – and head of Healthy Kids Runnning Series Mullica Hill/Mantua – Meridith Daniel and West Deptford resident Teresa Brown to spread word about the garden.
Other board members of the nonprofit include Dionn Tunis, Onna Jones and Donna Romalino, who help promote the mission of the nonprofit.
“We’re making school gardens the norm, especially in New Jersey with us being the Garden State,” said Harris. “Why is it not the norm here? Why is every other state beating us in terms of agricultural education?”
Daniel said the Bullock Garden Project more recently has done work with Harrison Township Elementary School’s Re-imagination Garden to help start a plot at the school for the students. To this day, teachers often have their students work in the garden to harvest and tend to the food within it.
The nonprofit has branched outside of the county to do work throughout New Jersey and the country to help communities start their own children’s gardens.
Harris added the project helps children realize there’s multiple things they can do outside of college no matter where they go.
“When you’re looking at the green industry, the focus of it and need for innovators, it’s an industry dominated by older white males,” said Harris. “We need children to come in, we need girls and minorities, we’re not saying everyone else can’t come in, but we want children to look at this and recognize it’s a lucrative future.”
With the nonprofit being located at the South Jersey Tech Park in Mullica Hill, Harris added they’re able to teach the children how much technology goes into gardening and farming such as watering systems, sustainability, etc.
The trio added the nonprofit has also been able to teach children trial and error with the things they grow, or attempt to grow.
“There are so many things they don’t realize they’re working on, and we have to be flexible and accept that not everything works and teach them how to adjust,” said Brown.
Brown went on to add that children are also more inclined through gardening to taste the items they plant and to begin healthy eating habits.
To learn more about the Bullock Garden Project or to sign your child up to volunteer, visit www.BullockGardenProject.org.
“When [the children] realize that they can put something as small as a seed in the earth and it grows into something so big and beautiful to eat, it’s wonderful,” said Harris.