Todd Beasley, Very Sustainable
By Rachel Haynie
Photos by Sally Taylor
Todd Beasley’s passion for sustainability is not the thunderous applause kind, heard perhaps during a standing ovation. It is more the quiet passion felt while marveling at a bumblebee’s fuzzy torso, or perhapsthe first fruit on a young peach tree.
Whatever his passion for Nature, it’s infectious. And it’s quietly gone viral at Heathwood Hall, where Beasley is on faculty as Environmental Science teacher and co-director of SEED Program. And now, his passion has spilled over into his professional network and has led the American Horticultural Society to choose Columbia as the destination for its annual National Children and Youth Gardening Symposium.
Dr. Beasley came to Heathwood Hall in 2007-2008, his back pocket filled with six years of Riverbanks Zoo experience and years of greenhouse management and teaching at Midlands Technical College. He quickly began leading an intentional process to allow Heathwood’s 131-acre campus, situated within close proximity of the Congaree River, to again become its own best steward, wherever possible. The Episcopal school had been an in-town institution from 1951, and moved around 1972 to a new campus situated in former bottomland forest land that had been farmed sometime within its long history.
As that tract of land has evolved naturally over time, likewise, the school constantly evolves, re-invents itself. In recent years teaching sustainability across the curriculum has been one of the ways the school has achieved its goal of remaining academically relevant for its student body, currently of approximately 650 students. The school has emerged as a benchmark institution in this area. “We have been nationally recognized for our sustainability education,” Beasley said, “and I am hoping we will move forward with an official program in the near future.”
The 13 distinct garden sites on the sprawling campus, plus numerous other planted areas, thrive on the vital moisture the plants – many of them native - can soak up through the soil, rocks and mulch that anchor their habitats. Beasley’s philosophy is: “If a plant doesn’t make it where we planted it, then we made a mistake in putting it there.”
Just as every plant has a best place scenario, every student at Heathwood has multiple chances to learn from and about sustainability, and contribute to it. “Not every student is interested in getting dirty hands, but there are many other things gardens need, starting with design.” Since he first arrived, Beasley has made a determination not to lean in; now students do much of the gardening themselves, starting with the designing.
For the campus to flourish as naturally as possible has great economic benefits, as Beasley pointed out. “The more natural areas we have, the less the maintenance crew has to mow. And we now have an arrangement with a local tree service that provides bark chips that we apply to the base of our trees to help hold moisture. That also saves a lot of maintenance money and is a better practice.” Beasley added: “A school garden club also curbs maintenance costs. Parents come out regularly and lead through example by weeding and taking on other roles attendant to the gardens.”
One of the school’s planted areas is a riparian zone. Beasley explained that widespread sustainability initiatives have helped normalize the water quality in the pond where students kayak.
Christening the gardens with cool names has helped engender student interest. “Wild Wing Buffet has a number of plants that attract birds, butterflies, and bees,” Beasley said. “The Edible Forest has at least 100 fruit-bearing trees. One garden replicates our state’s Carolina Bays. The Geography Garden has plants representing myriad growing zones. The Medicine Wheel contains plants that, in earlier cultures, were used to treat illness, make soap, and provide fiber for various uses, or pigment for dyes. All plantings there line a path to the compass.” Beasley finished the list by explaining: “The art garden is a living canvas of flower color and texture from plant and leaf combinations, a place in which to display art, and a place to use material for art projects; it also is a place of reflection that can inspire art.”
Sustainability must live up to its name and reputation by sustaining itself at Heathwood Hall. Beasley not only nurtures the cultivation of the plants; he also nurtures the develop projects that generate funds to support the sustainability initiatives. “No dollars come out of the school for this – we are eligible for a number of grants and we also have several fund-raisers each year.” Beasley, and colleagues, lead students in the propagation of plants sold in spring and fall to bring in needed money. “We also have a Christmas tree sale in November. The trees are pre-ordered, cut in North Carolina the day before they are delivered here, so there is no waste,” Beasley said.
These and other successful practices will be shared with those attending the July symposium along with answers to pertinent question and other details. It is clear the symposium organizers believe Beasley is doing a lot of things right; the AHS planning committee endorsed the educator’s conference proposal exactly as he wrote it, bringing the symposium back to the south for the first time in a number of years.
On Wednesday, July 13, Registrants may take pre-symposium trips. Their choices: to visit the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville, with continuation on to Lake City where they will visit Moore Farms Botanical Garden, or to visit local GreenStep Schools. Sessions begin on Thursday morning and, later that day, the horticulturalists attending the symposium will be transported to Heathwood Hall for more sessions and dinner. The evening’s highlight will be a performance of A Sense of Wonder by Kainlani Lee. Although school will be out for the summer, when the symposium attendees arrive in Columbia, Beasley expects colors in the gardens to be at their most vibrant.
Friday afternoon, following sessions, the group will see Riverbanks Zoo & Garden and will end their day with an opportunity to make their own restaurant choices for dinner. Saturday’s activities begin with sessions, lunch and a keynote speaker before all who wish to extend their symposium activities will head out to the Carolina Children’s Garden at Clemson Sandhill Research & Education Center.
Over two decades the NCYG symposium has prepared thousands of teachers who, in turn, have prepared more than a million young learners to embrace their world with curiosity, energy and genuine appreciation.
“The decision to make Columbia the site of this year’s NCYG meeting is a testament to the strength and importance of youth gardening everywhere, and we are right here, doing our part,” Beasley said.
>> Formative Years
North Augusta, SC
Wife, Amy Allen (teen librarian every kid should visit at Southeast Branch, Richland Library)
Dr. Anne Weston of Ashley Hall, Charleston, SC;
Dr. Rhonda Jeffries, USC, regarding personal professional development;
Dr. Arlene Marturano, assistant director, Center for Science Education at USC, regarding youth gardening
Ed.D. University of South Carolina – Curriculum and Instruction with focus on environmental education
Community Involvement: with Dr. Marturano, hosts monthly USC Saturday Service in the Children’s Garden, Two Notch Road. Recent achievements there: replacing beds, via funding support from Columbia Green. One recent project: the Reading Garden.
Professional: engaged in numerous local environmental initiatives. At last year’s American Horticultural Society Children and Youth Gardens Symposium presented “Kids DIG (Design Interesting Gardens).
Mountain biking, backpacking, camping, gardening, stamp collection, metal detecting (occasionally.)
Reading: “I’ve been reading the classics, most recently “Ivanhoe,” but am taking a break now and am reading the 2009 Swedish comic novel: “The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” by Jonas Jonasson.