Watching a Truman volunteer project grow into a non-profit organization isn’t something every student gets to experience. Brockell Briddle (’13) has worked tirelessly since 2010 to watch what was once a small seed grow into something larger than she could have ever imagined.
The Green Thumb Project began in the spring of 2009 as a small 800 square foot schoolyard garden on the campus of Ray Miller Elementary School. It was created by a class of Truman students enrolled in a “Grassroots Environmentalism” course taught by Michael Kelrick, chair and professor of biology. The garden fulfilled a service-learning component for the course and resulted in a University-student run, after-school “Garden Club” program for elementary youth. By encouraging learning through experience-based methods, the program included many interdisciplinary activities to engage the children. Journaling and art projects, as well as applying concepts of science and math through planting and harvesting vegetables, were all part of the outdoor class curriculum.
Since the class project, the garden and the program have grown into something much larger. In the spring of 2010, MAE student Ashley May and Briddle joined together to revitalize the effort.
“When I learned about the garden and the idea of the program, I was truly inspired and saw a great deal of potential,” Briddle said.
The two young women catalyzed on the opportunity of leadership and began expanding the after-school program to include a broader education and community focus. That summer, they began taking the elementary school students to the local farmers’ market to sell their produce. They incorporated the ideals of entrepreneurship and social-enterprise into their curriculum and emphasized the importance of creating a closed-loop agriculture system to their students.
In 2011, Briddle and May filed for Missouri non-profit status and coined the name “The Green Thumb Project.” They began fundraising, writing grants and organizing community events. In 2012, they partnered with the skills USA team at the Kirksville Area Technical Center and received a $10,000 “Community Enhancement Grant” from Lowe’s Corporation. This grant, in conjunction with a land donation from the Kirksville School District, enabled the Green Thumb Project to build a new 2,400 square foot garden and outdoor classroom that enhanced the overall structure of the program.
In Briddle’s final year of study at Truman, she focused her efforts toward serving the interest of the Green Thumb Project. Under the advising of Kelrick, Briddle designed an internship around non-profit administration and capacity building for the organization. Her efforts resulted in securing more community partnerships, annual funding and stipends for internship positions.
Briddle believes her greatest accomplishments for the Green Thumb Project to be within the past year. She attributes much of the success to the hiring and efforts of an AmeriCorps VISTA member James DeBiasi. Last fall alone, DeBiasi assisted in hosting more than 25 classes and helped coordinate more than 550 students (K-5) in the new outdoor education site.
“All of our lesson plans are aligned with current state learning standards. Our job is to assist the teachers and facilitate them in using the outdoors as a tool for learning,” Briddle said.
Other successes last year include creating a Board of Directors for the organization, hosting more than 100 Truman student volunteers and organizing a “Farm to Table” community dinner. New partnerships, including the Northeast Missouri Community Action Agency and the Kirksville Housing Authority, have enabled the Green Thumb Project to offer services to the greater community. Last season, the Green Thumb Project staff contributed time to the Jamison Street Community Garden, created an online local food buyer’s program and built more than 20 community garden beds at Village 76 in Kirksville.
Briddle credits the partnership of Truman and the Kirksville School District for much of the Green Thumb Project’s success.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of Truman faculty, student volunteers and the open-mindedness of [the Kirksville School District],” Briddle said.
In coming years, the Green Thumb Project hopes to become an established 501(c)3 and continue to build their capacity as a non-profit organization.
“The Green Thumb Project has been a way for me to give back to my home community, and I have developed a deep passion for it,” Briddle said. “I hope others will join me in enabling this project to grow and thrive.”
Briddle believes the simplest way to get involved with the Green Thumb Project is with a donation of money or time. The project is currently in need of a CPA and an attorney, but welcomes volunteer help of any kind. To make a donation, become a volunteer or learn more about the organization, visit greenthumbproject.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.