This spring, the fresh veggies aren’t the only new addition at the South Whidbey School Farms.
Emily Koller is the new school farm manager, taking the reins from Cary Peterson, who has held the role since 2013 and has spent the last several years developing the program for the school district.
Koller hails from Nevada City, Calif., where she formerly worked as the director of a nonprofit educational farm.
“I came here because I was looking for a safer climate,” she said. “My community was experiencing a lot of wildfires and it was just not feeling sustainable to be there long-term. It was just too scary and too smoky all the time.”
Koller arrived on South Whidbey in March for the first time, having never before visited her new home.
“My first experience was waiting for three hours to get onto the island. That surprised me,” she said with a laugh.
Since then, she’s learned her way around the farm with the help of Peterson.
As the school farm manager, Koller collaborates with agricultural teachers, AmeriCorps service members and nonprofit food organization Whidbey Island Nourishes on a daily basis. Seven classes from the elementary school visit the biggest garden in the program every day, which is located behind the south campus of the elementary school. Two classes from the high school visit the two other, smaller gardens at the high school campus.
“There’s not a typical day,” Koller said. “Every day is different depending on what’s happening at the farm and what’s happening in the classes.”
Her goal, she explained, is to fine-tune the systems of the farm and how it interacts with students and the AmeriCorps team.
Peterson said Koller is great with the kids, and she knows how to incorporate farming into their education by supporting their educators.
“Farming can be really stressful and there’s a lot of things to juggle,” Peterson said. “Her equanimity and good nature through all things you can encounter in farming, I’m impressed by.”
She added that Koller has brought a fresh set of eyes and has already made some positive changes to the program, such as labeling garden beds.
“You’d think that would be pretty obvious, but I guess I never thought of it,” Peterson said with a laugh.
Peterson’s last day as a school district employee is Aug. 31. In the meantime, she’s been busy writing a handbook for the South Whidbey School Farms program.
Although she is stepping down from her role, she predicts that she will most likely continue to be involved with the program in some way.
She plans to focus her energy on affordable housing next.
“Affordable housing helps the school and it helps the kids,” she said. “I just want to take that next step, to be of service to the community.”
People wanting to meet Koller can volunteer to be a part of some upcoming work parties at the farm this summer, which begin June 21 and run 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays at the elementary school farm and 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays at the high school garden.