May River Montessori Garden

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BLUFFTON’S MAY RIVER MONTESSORI SCHOOL ADAPTS AND PRODUCES

This spring, the organic garden at May River Montessori School was bigger and better than ever. Kale, swiss chard, carrots, radishes and other crops planted by the students were almost ready to harvest, and the tomato plants the school sells were growing stronger in greenhouses.

Then the coronavirus hit and May River Montessori, like all other schools in South Carolina, had to close.

hopegarden2Brent Wearren, the school’s gardening teacher, needed to find a way to take the lessons his students were learning in the garden into their new schooling experience at home.

“I teach the ‘3 Ps’,” said Wearren, whose nickname is “Farmer B.” “That’s perseverance, patience and persistence. This situation called for all three.”

With the help of volunteer families, Wearren organized a massive harvest of the school’s gardens, bagging the produce for families to pick up during drive-thrus that also distributed educational materials. Each family and staff member also received an heirloom tomato plant in an eco-friendly container so they could tend part of the school’s garden at home — plus a video of care instructions recorded by Farmer B.

“We all drove through several times to pick up materials for at-home learning activities. In addition to Play-Doh and kid scissors, when the harvest started they began including lettuce, beets, turnips, zucchini and yellow squash,” said Nell Curran, mother of 3-year-old student Orion.

She said her son enjoys eating vegetables that he helped grow and watering his tomato plant. 

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“He understands it as a connection to school,” she said. “That’s especially useful for really young kids who got cut off abruptly from their friends and teachers and don’t understand why.”

Kindergartener Ellie Houpt also enjoys using her family’s metal watering can and watching her tomato plant grow.

May River Montessori isn’t alone in embracing gardening. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, many people stuck at home turned to backyard plots for entertainment and sustenance. Fearing food shortages, and afraid to expose themselves to other shoppers in grocery stores, many planted pandemic “hope” gardens. Even people unfamiliar with gardening decided to get their hands dirty and start planting. But May River Montessori parents were lucky to have gardening experts on hand: their children. 

As part of their studies, students learn to plant, care for, observe and harvest their own organic produce. Each class has its own raised bed and names its garden. 

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At the Farmers Market of Bluffton on Thursday afternoons, shoppers can buy tomato plants raised in small greenhouses the students built themselves. 

Part of the school’s produce goes to nonprofit groups Bluffton Self Help and Sandalwood Food Pantry — to help the students develop compassion and empathy, Wearren said.

A wholesale grower for 34 years in Kentucky, Wearren moved to the Lowcountry in 2014. He owns an organic gardening business and is in his second year of teaching gardening at May River Montessori — where the garden is going to continue to grow.

The school, which previously went through sixth grade, has announced it will add seventh grade in the 2020-21 school year and wants the curriculum to be based around a student-run farm. May River Montessori has identified property in Bluffton where students would raise crops and possibly have farm animals, but must raise the money to purchase it. School director Michele Quigley said a capital campaign is planned.