Farm Director Alison Chesney is nurturing our girls in her outdoor classroom and blossoming in her new role.
Alison Chesney first came to the Hutchison farm because of our honeybees. Not the early childhood students but the actual bees. Over the past two years, Chesney helped take care of the Hutchison bees as a volunteer with Thistle and Bee, a nonprofit organization where she taught other women about the practice of beekeeping. When she saw an opening for the farm director position, she knew she had to apply.
“I was excited when I saw that the farm had a space to teach and grow,” Chesney said.
That space is now hers to nurture. Chesney enjoys teaching out on the farm despite the summer heat where students are already getting their hands dirty. They have harvested flowers, peppers, okra, and cucumbers and planted fall crops like kale, beets, lettuce, and buckwheat. Chesney even took kindergarteners on a successful toad hunt since toads can help keep squash bugs away from pumpkin plants.
Her path to Hutchison includes a variety of teaching experiences over the past decade. It started with a bachelor’s degree in teaching history from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Since, Chesney has served as an environmental education teacher, an organic farmer, a school gardens coordinator, and a beekeeper. She has led farm programs at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, the McDowell Environmental Center in Alabama, and St. Columba.
“I am curious about culture, people, and the way we make decisions in life. That brought me into environmental education, and then to food education,” Chesney said.
Chesney and her husband Jonathan moved to Memphis two years ago. She says she had missed winter in the South. At the beginning of 2021, the Chesneys welcomed a new addition to their family, a baby girl named Georgina.
Now that Chesney is at Hutchison, she is excited to get to work. She has spent time with the early childhood and lower school classes and is looking forward to meeting the middle and upper school students.
Chesney’s lessons on the farm center on project-based learning. One example is with the kindergarteners, who will study living and nonliving things this fall. Their teachers are planning a unit on frogs and toads, and Chesney plans to incorporate their lessons into the girls’ future visits. Chesney says the farm is a key component of Hutchison’s curriculum because most schools don’t have this kind of opportunity: a natural classroom of curiosity and learning.
“It's amazing to see students come out. They have their own questions and their own wonders. There's so much that you can learn by asking questions. It's a beautiful classroom to be in,” Chesney said.
Her plans for the farm this fall include studying buckwheat, harvesting honey with second grade, and planting bok choy with middle school Chinese classes. There will be a lot going on and many crops growing, and she says everyone is welcome to stop by if they want to see what’s happening.
“If you need a walk, just come out and visit. We're out here. Come enjoy the beauty and see what's growing.”