homepage logo

Local nonprofit uses gardening to start conversations on racial justice

By Emily Anderson standard-Examiner - | May 22, 2021
1 / 7

Adrienne Scott-Ellis, wearing a Sowing Seeds of Change T-shirt, poses in front of a community garden in Clinton, where much of the work associated with her nonprofit is done, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

2 / 7

Adrienne Scott-Ellis hauls tomato plants at a community garden in Clinton as part of her nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

3 / 7

Fourth grader Gabe Garcia works in a community garden in Clinton as part of his teacher Adrienne Scott-Ellis' nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

4 / 7

Meagan Garcia, left, and Sara Eskelson, right, work in a community garden in Clinton as part of Adrienne Scott-Ellis' nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

5 / 7

Adrienne Scott-Ellis hauls tomato plants at a community garden in Clinton as part of her nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

6 / 7

Adrienne Scott-Ellis, right, dumps dirt into a community garden in Clinton as part of her nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

7 / 7

Fourth graders Brooks Nichols, right, and Gabe Garcia, center, work in a community garden in Clinton as part of their teacher Adrienne Scott-Ellis' nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

CLINTON — Although she wasn’t on the clock, fourth grade teacher Adrienne Scott-Ellis began the first part of her Saturday morning giving a history lesson.

“Remember when we were talking about Thomas Jefferson? Remember what document he was responsible for?” she asked two of her students, Gabe Garcia and Brooks Nichols.

“The Declaration of Independence,” they responded in chorus, each gripping a rake and a hoe in their garden-gloved hands.

“And then there’s this really important piece of that Declaration of Independence that we should always remember,” Scott-Ellis said, before Brooks knowingly interjected, “All men are created equal.”

“I’m pretty sure he still owned slaves, though,” Gabe said, furrowing his brow.

“He did,” Scott-Ellis said. “It doesn’t make sense, right? That’s a result of racism — racism does not make sense.

“So you guys have to have the critical thinking skills where you’re like, let’s look at the evidence, look at history, look at the meaning of these words and if it’s not adding up properly, something’s amiss here. And sometimes the root of it is racism. So just like these roots here, you’ve got to get rid of it,” she added, pointing to weeds in the ground.

EMILY ANDERSON, Standard-Examiner

Fourth grader Gabe Garcia, left, talks with his teacher Adrienne Scott-Ellis at a community garden in Clinton as he takes part in her nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

The students, along with faculty members from their school, Doxey Elementary School in Sunset, and other people from the community, came to garden on a plot of land nestled between neighborhoods in Clinton, as they do most Saturday mornings.

A group effort to prepare the ground for rows of potatoes, tomatoes and more is part of the vision for Scott-Ellis’ nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change. As people work in the garden, they have hard conversations about racism and other forms of oppression. Then, at the end of the summer, their harvest is donated to local families in need.

Sowing Seeds of Change is in its second year of operation. And although Scott-Ellis acted on her idea to start the nonprofit last year as she found herself struggling to grapple with multiple instances of police violence against Black people, the idea grew slowly out of her experience as a teacher and a Black mother.

Sprouting seeds in the classroom

Scott-Ellis was born and raised in Utah and is a graduate of Layton High School and Utah State University. It was always her dream to bring equity and awareness to Utah schools, where there are few teachers of color.

Her presence, she thought, would help students of color see themselves furthering their education and going on to a meaningful career — maybe in education, like her. Scott-Ellis also hoped that through her teaching, students would come to have a more complete understanding of the world.

“I grew up with just the Eurocentric perspective of history,” she said. “When you teach history, you should teach it from a variety of perspectives.”

So she set out to do that.

As part of the Utah Core Standards, students spend fourth grade learning about the history of the state. Instead of focusing her instruction on the white, male historical figures in Utah who often are given their own pages in history books, she expanded it to include the frequently forgotten characters, like James Beckwourth, a Black mountain man.

In an effort to help students understand the contributions of people from often marginalized backgrounds, she assigns them each one person to research in depth. Then, one night during the school year, she and other teachers organize a “wax museum” in which students dress like the historical figure and give a speech from a first-person perspective.

EMILY ANDERSON, Standard-Examiner

Tomato plants named for Rosa Parks, Madam C.J. Walker and John Lewis wait to be planted in a community garden in Clinton as part of Adrienne Scott-Ellis’ nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

Students are then asked to identify a positive characteristic their chosen person has and plant a seed to symbolize that quality growing within the community. Scott-Ellis this year applied for a grant from the Davis Education Foundation which was used to build a greenhouse at Doxey Elementary where students can grow their seeds.

“It was phenomenal how much the kids learned and they taught each other,” she said.

But, as Doxey Elementary teacher assistant Meagan Garcia noted, students wouldn’t have learned what they did without Scott-Ellis.

“Mrs. Scott-Ellis is famous for being an amazing teacher who’s able to teach history in such a unique way and just bring in all sorts of different perspectives to kids,” Garcia said.

She was recognized by the Utah Education Association this year with the Robert “Archie” Archuleta UEA Human and Civil Rights Award, which is given to teachers who have a significant impact on civil rights in education, as well as the larger community.

Teaching students about the hardships and accomplishments of people from traditionally oppressed backgrounds has not always been an easy course for Scott-Ellis.

After former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a movement of kneeling during the national anthem prior to football games to protest racial injustices, Scott-Ellis, too, kneeled in front of her class to help students comprehend the purpose of his actions.

“I took a knee and was talking about a protest, a nonviolent protest. It’s about getting people to have conversations,” she said. “With any protest, there are going to be people who are going to resist the change — that’s why the protest is necessary.”

Some parents were upset about the way Scott-Ellis taught the concept and complained to the Davis School District. In response, the district issued Scott-Ellis her first and only written reprimand. She said she wishes the district had instead facilitated a conversation between her and the parents so they could work through their individual concerns.

A spokesperson for the Davis School District declined to comment on the reprimand, saying it cannot discuss personnel issues, but said “future situations would each be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

“I don’t feel like I was listened to,” she said. “It was an opportunity for the community to have a discussion about police brutality and what was happening. After receiving a reprimand, you walk on egg shells and you’re fearful about what you say, what you do.”

Planting a community garden and creating Sowing Seeds for Change was a response, in part, to that conversation and others like it being stifled. After 30 years of teaching, Scott-Ellis is now retiring to focus on having such heart-to-hearts.

“The community garden, I feel, is going to be a place designated that this is where we can come and have those discussions,” Scott-Ellis said. “Our sole purpose is to have those community connections, and until we start having the dialogue, we’re not going to see the change.”

Growing the garden

The first iteration of the community garden, which came to fruition last spring after schools had shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic and people were beginning to hit the streets in protest of racial injustice, was located in Sunset adjacent to the city offices and police department.

After its first harvest, the group was able to donate approximately 15 boxes of fresh produce to local families and older people in need, Scott-Ellis said.

The nonprofit was notified by the Sunset City Council in March that the original plot of land it gardened on was being sold. That didn’t stop Scott-Ellis, though — she just relocated the community garden to Clinton.

EMILY ANDERSON, Standard-Examiner

Fourth graders Brooks Nichols, left, and Gabe Garcia, right, work in a community garden in Clinton as part of teacher Adrienne Scott-Ellis’ nonprofit, Sowing Seeds of Change, on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

Every Saturday, new people show up to weed, plant, harvest and chat about the issues weighing heaviest on their minds, whether those have to do with the Black Lives Matter movement, problems facing the LGBTQ community, women’s rights or other matters society is coming to terms with, explained Garcia as she stood in the dirt she was prepping for tomato plants.

“I think gardening is the best place for it because we can just sit, pull weeds out of the ground, plant, whatever we are doing, and just have a discussion,” said fifth grade teacher Sara Eskelson, who also showed up to work in the garden last Saturday. “I think that’s the best part about this — it’s sowing seeds as in gardening, but sowing seeds as in it’s changing. It’s changed me. I’m no longer passive about things.”

In addition to the garden, Sowing Seeds of Change has an adult book club that reads literature addressing the history of racism, like “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019” and “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

Anyone can get involved with the nonprofit, Eskelson added, saying they just have to show up to work. For those who want to participate but may not have their Saturday mornings open, Scott-Ellis said they can request to join the Sowing Seeds of Change private Facebook group.

The nonprofit is just in its beginning stages, and Scott-Ellis has plenty of plans for it to grow. As the mother of an autistic son, she foresees it being a place of employment for adults with special needs.

The primary purpose of the community garden, as everyone who dug their hands into the soil testified last Saturday, is to have a safe space where everyone is welcome to build community as they work to change themselves and the world around them.

Eskelson and Garcia, as they’ve shown up over the past year, have seen the difference it has made in their lives and outlooks.

“The metaphor is a brilliant metaphor of working hard and getting dirty in hopes of sowing positive seeds and sowing seeds of courage, and seeds of acceptance,” Garcia said, continuing, “and how it takes time and it sometimes feels like nothing’s happening and then all of a sudden you start seeing that growth.”


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)