Garden Educator Highlight: Katherine Jernigan

Big Green Chicago Garden Educators take on the role of helping with the maintenance and curriculum involved in the Learning Gardens throughout the city. I sat down with a Big Green Garden Educator Katherine Jernigan to hear about the progress happening in the Learning Gardens. Listen to our conversation or read the transcript!

Natalie: Hello and welcome to the Big Green Chicago Podcast. I’m Natalie, Big Green Chicago’s summer intern. In this three-part series, you’ll hear from three different people who all play different roles in supporting Big Green Chicago. On this episode you’ll hear from Katherine Jernigan, a Big Green Chicago Garden Educator. Garden Educators make up a big part of the Big Green Community. We talked more about her role and why she loves doing it. Here’s our conversation…

Katherine: I work with a lot of the elementary schools, so a lot of younger students. We increase the preference of [healthier foods] by just increasing their exposure to it. Studies have shown that if younger kids try things multiple times they’re more likely to like them. So, that’s one thing we do is provide them the opportunity to taste things they might not taste at home.

Natalie: Prior to working at Big Green, Jernigan was an urban farm educator in Oregon and traveled to Australia and India to work on farms there. Today, Jernigan stresses that there are many reasons why she loves working at Big Green, but it is what she sees happening in the gardens that keeps her coming back for more.

Katherine: The expression on the kids faces and the passion we see in the teachers. And to see people get excited about being outside and excited about caring for a plant is really amazing.

Natalie: When she moved to Chicago and started working for Big Green, she noticed something.

Katherine: One thing that really strikes me as different from where I grew up and maybe different from other regions is that many of the schools have school yards that are unsafe or covered in asphalt. So, when we bring a garden in, they may have not been able to use the yard at all for recess or anything. So, we give students a way to interact with the outdoors in a still controlled and safe environment.

Natalie: Jernigan also spoke to the national issue and hand and how Big Green is trying to help.

Katherine: I think with the industrialization of the food system, people are more disconnected from the way that their food is produced. The most important thing Big Green is doing is to educate students on what it means to eat healthy and then provide a way to show them how to do that. They can start gardens at home or eat from their school garden. All that knowledge they’re taking in is going to influence their diet, hopefully.

Natalie: Jernigan shared several stories about Learning Gardens in Chicago, here is one of them.

Katherine: There is one school Gary, which is on the southwest side in the Little Village neighborhood. And they were so excited to get their garden! I think they were waiting for about two years. We had a wonderful kick off day, all the plants were planted, all the soil was put in. It was awesome. Ever since the garden was installed, when I go back and visit that garden there are students out watering, there are people from the neighborhood hanging out in the garden, and so that garden for me is a really good example of how the gardens can be a place not just for the students but for their families, elderly, anybody in the neighborhood who can appreciate this space. I think Big Green has potential to build off of what we have already started and creating a national culture. People always say planting a seed is like planting hope, or something like that. As a garden educator you get to plant many, many seeds and I think there is a lot of optimism and hope in the job. Whether its working with students directly and seeing their relationship with the garden to grow and develop, but also each garden as a seed throughout the city and throughout the country. We are planting something that has the potential to provide so much value and so much beauty and so many educational opportunities.

Natalie: Garden Educators like Katherine help Learning Gardens succeed. That’s all we have for today. On the next episode you’ll hear from a farmer that helps supply Big Green Chicago’s Learning Gardens with seeds. Thank you for listening, bye for now!