Student Spotlight: Laterius Webb

I haven’t run into many seventh graders who know how to plant, water, weed, and harvest a garden full of vegetables, but Laterius Webb is one of the few. While in elementary school at Memphis Scholars Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Laterius happened upon the Learning Garden quite by chance. Actually, this bit of the story speaks greatly to his character. The Learning Gardens at his school needed tending and he realized others may be too busy to care for it in the way new it should be. Seeing this gap, Laterius stepped up and began taking care of the garden alongside his teacher, Maddy Redmond.

Now in his third year of gardening and at a new school, Humes Middle, Laterius still loves spending time in the garden. He says the time he spends there is quiet and peaceful compared to the bustle inside the school building. As we chop up fava bean plants and mix them deep into the cool soil, he proudly declares that he enjoys getting dirty, something that causes many students his age hesitation. He even chose to work without garden gloves.

Under the Big Green programming umbrella, each Learning Garden school has a Learning Garden Team comprised of teachers, staff, and parents. The Garden Team Lead serves as a main point of contact, event facilitator, and garden champion who will brave the elements to care for the garden. At Humes Middle, Laterius essentially functions as the Garden Team Lead, making Humes Middle the only student-led Garden Team of the 142 Learning Garden schools in Memphis. He is supported by Ms. Redmond, who helps schedule events and communicates with Big Green via email, but Laterius is the champion who knows that the Fava Bean plants we’re steadily chopping and burying are a rich source of nitrogen–an important soil amendment if you want tasty tomatoes in the summertime.

Having worked in the garden for three years, Laterius has taught many of his peers how to plant. From assisting with a planting day when entire classes are in the garden, to training one or two friends as assistants, he feels confident in his ability to share his love of gardening with others. However, when it comes to working in the garden, Laterius does have one word of caution: “You’ve got to be committed… {and} keep vigilant.” Laterius demonstrates the steady commitment and reliability that the garden needs, and he impresses the importance of these qualities on anyone who wants to work with him.

My favorite moment from my conversation with Laterius was when I asked where he sees himself in the future. The question caused him to pause mid-chop, then his answer came with a sly smile and a Fava Bean plant plunged deep in the soil. He plans to work for a multi-million dollar company until he can afford to buy himself a big house with a flat roof. Why a flat roof? I asked. He replies as if it’s obvious – so he can install a rooftop garden and rain catchment system. I deeply hope his vision is realized.

Laterius is an incredible student-gardener. His commitment to the garden provides a robust rubric not only for student engagement, but also student leadership in our 600+ Learning Gardens across the country. I hope Big Green, individual schools, and the greater Memphis community can continue to lift students like him up so that one day soon, he won’t be the only student Garden Team Lead. While we worked, I asked him what he hopes to come from this article, and his answer turned out to be the same as my own: we hope this inspires more students to brave getting dirt under their fingernails and to invest in growing real food. It’s fun, after all.