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Sonoma County Gazette

Growing Sustainable Children:
A Garden Teacher’s Guide

Feb 16, 2018


By Leslie Loy

Ronni SandsRonni Sands began to teach at Summerfield almost 25 years ago at a time when there was no permaculture garden and no Sophia Hall. There was no track, there were no greenhouses on the farm, and no shed. Back then, Ronni spritely walked around the garden and oversaw students for hours upon hours attempting to tame crabgrass in the garden beds, re-mulching the fields, reshaping the compost piles, and grinding while baking wholesome blue corn muffins and steeping chamomile tea for snack. Back then, the garden was still in its fledgling stages, morphing with each constellation of students; along with the physical reformation of the natural environment, the gardening program was defining itself according to the skills and growing capacities of its teachers, Ronni and Dan included. In this way, some things have not changed: this attention to cycles and re-fertilization are at the heart of the Summerfield garden class experience throughout all the grades. 

Since her arrival, Ronni has helped to mold a beautiful, rich gardening curriculum that is a response to both the local agricultural needs and the picture Steiner gives of the developing human being. After years of equally hard work, study, collaboration, learning, and painstaking writing and re-writing, Ronni offers yet another fruit of extraordinary labor to our community and to anyone else who may be interested: a book for all to enjoy. Her research lab--Summerfield’s gardens and its gardening classes--has lent her the necessary inspiration and evidence for a gorgeously focused book that balances examples, guidance, tools and tricks with pedagogical context.

 Initially, one might think that a book titled Growing Sustainable Children: A Garden Teacher’s Guide is meant for just teachers, and even more just for gardening instructors. It is, however, actually a useful resource for anyone who is particularly interested in understanding or participating in Summerfield’s unique, embedded relationship to the land. Through Growing Sustainable Children, any reader will better understand the deepening of the garden/land stewardship curriculum that is vital to a Summerfield student’s educational experience. Our classrooms open up to the land, every outbreath takes place in relationship to the land and the seasons, and so, in essence, this book is a must-read for any parent who chooses to send their child to Summerfield to better understand what Summerfield is striving to achieve through its curriculum and community-based programs.

Together, Ronni and her co-author, Willow Summer, draw out and articulate a direct mirror of the extraordinary work and commitment that Summerfield’s curriculum holds to nourishing and conserving its local resources while teaching all students of all ages the fundamental principles in biodynamics, permaculture, and organic practices. That alone is an extraordinary concept: through working with the gardens and the land, every student becomes a land steward, primed to be global citizens who care for the world and the people around them. Students in the Roots & Shoots program learn to pay attention to the changing colors of the leaves, the scents of the flowers, the feeling of the soil in their hands; the third grader learns how to care for the farm animals and to harvest grain and to transform that, eventually, into bread loaves; the 12th grader learns how to consider real conservation issues and to analyze ecological concerns and to create projects that address those readily, both on-campus and with other schools and students, and even with leaders in the local community. This is demonstrated thoroughly in Ronni and Willow’s book, complete with examples, weighted in a picture of the developmental picture of the student and their age-appropriate questions and needs: when to sing, when do speak, when to reflect, when to look at the small seed and when to look at the whole plant.

Under the tutelage of our gardening faculty, our students have learned to breathe with the seasons around them, have come to embrace the nature that nurtures and cares for them, and have learned reciprocity in that they are nourished by the gardens just as they nourish them. This becomes so clearly evident when reading Growing Sustainable Children: one can recognize how one subject--in this case gardening--truly builds over the years and how the natural classroom of the garden matures and ripens with(in) the students each year.

Through Growing Sustainable Children, Ronni and Willow help to frame the essentials that our gardens and the curriculum, provides. They easily explain how adults can prepare and offer gardening courses or opportunities, and address all the necessary considerations that they have learned over the years. They synthesize the important essentials while offering up their own experiences--thoughtfully digested and applied. Growing Sustainable Children: A Garden Teacher’s Guide is a wonderful book for the beginning gardener or teacher, or the parent wishing to better understand the enriching gardening curriculum at Summerfield. Equally, Growing Sustainable Children will prove to be a stimulating and accessible read for the individual who seeks to understand the important in and out breath that nature and individual experience together, throughout each season and each lifecycle in the garden.

Well done, Ronni! Thank you for sharing your research and work with us all!

Ronni Sands- Author
Ronni Sands has been a Waldorf Garden Teacher atSummerfield Waldorf School and Farm ( near Santa Rosa, California for more than twenty years. She has also worked as a Waldorf kindergarten teacher, a market gardener, a landscaper, and a house parent for handicapped adults on a farm. Today she teaches high school students gardening, cooking, basket weaving, herbal studies, and sustainability. Her work in environmental studies and garden teaching have inspired a long line of graduates who take this work out into the world, many of whom have become gardening teachers themselves.

2018 Garden Teacher Training 

Ronni Sands and Willow Summer, co-authors of "Growing Sustainable Children: A Garden Teachers Guide" (Lindisfarne, 2017), will be offering their first 3-day garden teacher training intensive. Gather with other educators to explore K-12 garden, farmand nature-based education.

The course will be held at the beautiful Summerfield Waldorf School & Farm in Northwest Santa Rosa (655 Willowside Rd. Santa Rosa, Ca. 95401). Cost is $300-$350 sliding scale. To enroll or if you have questions please contact Ronni Sands at


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