School garden coordinator shares love of gardening in video series

ROSEBURG, Ore. – Halie Cousineau doesn’t like to sit still, so when Oregon schools closed this spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, she began making videos to reach the young students to whom she teaches gardening and agriculture.

The videos – Stay at Home Gardening with Halie Cousineau – replaced her classes as the school garden coordinator for Oregon State University Extension Service in Douglas County. They’re also available to anyone interested in gardening.

So far, Cousineau has produced 11 videos, three translated into Spanish, with more on the way. Topics include the mysteries of soil, how to make pots with paper, transplanting, companion planting and a video with a teacher asking questions about her garden.

To reach her students, she contacted teachers and principals so they could get the word out on their Facebook pages, encouraging participation. Collectively, the videos have drawn 2,600 views on YouTube.

“I wanted to make my position valuable during the pandemic,” said Cousineau, an AmeriCorps volunteer for OSU Extension. “I’ve produced many multimedia pieces so I have the experience and the hardware and could apply it to farming and gardening.”

Cousineau brings a full resume to the task. She’s got degrees in visual communications and international studies as an Indonesian specialist. She managed an organic farm in Ohio for seven years. Plans for the future focus on working for a nonprofit in sustainable agriculture and community food systems.

As an Extension school garden coordinator, Cousineau teaches in three Douglas County schools. Her lessons are hands-on and cover topics like pollination, worm composting and growing seeds. She doesn’t shy away from complicated subjects. Even in kindergarten classes, kids learn about chlorophyll and photosynthesis. The lessons, which take place both in the classroom and school gardens, are hands-on affairs with students learning by putting their hands in the soil.     

“It’s all applied learning, said Cousineau, who teaches kindergarten through fifth grade. “The kids are out there doing it. It’s not just science and math and learning new words, but applying it over and over every time I step in the classroom, indoors or out.”

Even for the youth who are not engaged in gardening, there’s always something to interest them. Cousineau gets them involved by branching out into broader subjects like recording seed growth or learning about farms.

“Kids can apply themselves as they do best,” she said. “It’s a full-circle way to approach all the important topics like sustainability and community.”

Cousineau is also doing live gardening and farming segments Tuesdays at noon on the Food Hero Facebook page. They’re given in a question-and-answer format and available to all.

Just as in her life, Cousineu follows two guidelines when teaching: gardening and eating organically and as locally as possible. It’s better for the environment, better for people and supports local agriculture, she said.

Cousineau wraps up her service for AmeriCorps and Extension at the end of August. By then she plans more videos, perhaps one every two weeks. Next she’s demonstrating tomato pruning and training techniques. She’ll also record videos on how to build a trellis and how to build a cold frame. She wants to show children and adults the joys of gardening.

“For all the people who express they don’t know how to garden, I want the videos to show how anyone can garden,” she said.

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