Grayson, Rushing speak at St. John’s

Felder Rushing with St. John’s gardener/instructor Dawn Ishee and Lynda Posey, who planted the seed for the school’s “Incredible, Edible Garden.” (Photo by Mark Thornton)

St. John’s Day School got a lot of statewide attention last week for what’s growing on there.

Well-known horticulturist Felder Rushing and well-known video storyteller Walt Grayson both visited the school in historic downtown Laurel last Tuesday.

After visiting the students’ “Incredible, Edible Garden,” Rushing talked to teachers about the importance of that being incorporated into their education.

“Gardening is children’s connection to the world,” said Rushing, who helped design the children’s garden at the Epcot Center. “I call it an outdoor classroom.”

He lives in England for half the year, he said.

“They still teach crop production there — how to grow food,” Rushing said, adding that chefs in Italy have to know how to grow what they cook. “Here, you hear more about composting and saving the world. We need to teach that gardening is fun, not work.”

In his slide show, he showed numerous examples of gardening in small or odd spaces at his home in Jackson — and even in the back of his pickup.

“I show this when people say they don’t have space for a garden,” Rushing said. “I was able to grow kale, parsley … and it held up against 81 mile-per-hour winds, according to the Louisiana Highway Patrol.”

Over the years, Rushing has authored 18 books on horticulture and taught students from five continents, but his message to all is basically the same as he told the teachers at St. John’s: “I know a lot of scientific detail that you don’t need to know. Keep it simple.”

The vegetables that are raised in the garden are sold at the downtown farmers’ market or used in “farm-to-table” instruction by chef Lynda Posey, who planted the seed for the program. A big part of Grayson’s story focused on the garden at the old Gardiner House, which was owned by the Gardiner family, then donated and turned into a school in 1950, he said.

Dawn Ishee is the garden instructor and Posey helps in the kitchen with a “salad class” — where students learn to plant and tend to the vegetables, then harvest, clean and prepare them. Then they eat it — “and I can promise you there is not one lettuce leaf left in that bowl,” Posey told Grayson.

Students get lessons in work, nutrition and life, Headmaster Carolyn Stone told Grayson.

“It teaches them delayed gratification,” she said. “They have to plant and process and watch something happen. It’s not instant, as so many of our kids are used to having things.”

Grayson concluded by saying that Laurel has planted another seed that is growing and blossoming now — Ben and Erin Napier’s HGTV show “Home Town” has started a real-estate revival, he said.

“They fix up those old turn-of-the-century houses for a new generation moving to Laurel,” he said.

Some favorite recipes of Lynda Posey and her famous daughter Parker Posey, as well as the Napiers’ favorites, can be found in the coffee-table book “A Taste of Home Town,” which is available for order at The Laurel Leader-Call on 318 North Magnolia St. in downtown Laurel. Come by or call 601-649-9388 to place an order.

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