Back to School Interview with Cathy Epps

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Cathy Epps is the principal of Mancos Elementary and has been integral to the success of garden programming in the school. When she was first approached about the idea of having garden class for each grade, she was enthusiastic about the students having a “hands-on approach to learning about gardens.” 

Initially, the garden program was “optional” for teachers to participate in. However, Epps was clear that it was essential that each teacher take part. MSTFP feels welcomed and supported as Epps makes sure each year that every class in Mancos Elementary has a designated time for garden class, no matter how busy schedules may be.  

Garden class has “evolved from everybody not only being required to attend, but loving and wanting to attend.” Epps is especially glad that even through the massive construction of the Mancos schools and the demolition of the outside garden space, garden coordinators continue to come inside and teach classes every month. Because coordinators make sure to teach to state mandated standards, teachers have grown to love the program as a productive and unique teaching resource. 

Epps recognizes the tastings done in garden class as an event that both teachers and students looks forward to monthly: “Students want to take home what they learn and they want to plant and eat fresh vegetables...They share how excited they are and it encourages parents to plant gardens at home.”

Even without a physical garden space in Mancos, Epps believes that garden programming is still influencing student culture regarding food: “the program has a huge impact on how students learn to eat right. It’s not just about being full, it’s about planting and growing the food to have healthy choices.” Since the incorporation of a salad bar in the elementary, middle, and high school cafeteria, kids are eating more and more vegetables they learn about in garden class. 

Epp looks forward to the future of MSTFP’s presence in the school, saying she’s “very excited about the school’s expansion and being able to build a whole new garden area.” She predicts future collaborations with Future Farmers of America (FFA) will offer growth and opportunities for students. “I think MSTFP has made an enormous impact on students; one that has them thinking about their future both school and career wise. They see food production as a possible path,” says Epps.

Thinking about the past and future of MSTFP and it’s long history with Mancos schools, Epps expresses her appreciation for the Project, saying “It’s a wonderful program, and wonderful that we’re collaborating and partners in it, and I hope it never goes away.”