Gifft Hill School’s EARTH Program Welcomes New Interns



GHS Chef LaShanda Francis, UVI student Jahnelle Rivera, and Iowa State students Anna Snyder, Morgan Bradley, and Casey Ludwig in the upper campus garden with EARTH director Dr. Dave Minner. Not pictured: Iowa State student Erin Bohlin.

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The latest round of Gifft Hill School’s Education and Resiliency Through Horticulture interns arrived on island last month and they’re already getting their hands dirty and their feet wet. The four Iowa State students and a University of the Virgin Islands student are taking on projects including creating a Ugandan keyhole garden, turning the upper campus’ patio space into an outdoor classroom and garden, and caring for 10 ducklings, which were donated to the program by Donna Matthias.

UVI marine biology major Jahnelle Rivera’s involvement in the program represents the first time EARTH has welcomed a student from the local university.

“My project is to go down and test sediments in the bay to predict whether it can be used to grow plants,” said Rivera.

The four Iowa State students, whose majors range from horticulture to landscape architecture to environmental studies, will spend their two months on island learning about sustainable farming while teaching GHS students about gardening and the farm-to-table movement.

“I really wanted to work with a non-profit organization, and it seemed like I could make a difference here,” said Iowa State junior Casey Ludwig as she misted the ducklings, whose eggs the students will farm.

Ludwig hopes to get the keyhole garden idea off the ground in the hopes that students from GHS’s sister school, the Namasagali School in Uganda, will one day visit St. John and recognize the African-inspired style of gardening.

Morgan Bradley, also a junior, hopes to eventually join the Peace Corps. She’s been enjoying the island beyond her experience at GHS.

“I volunteered for the Beach to Beach Power Swim,” said Bradley. “I love it here. I love the weather, the kids, and the beaches, of course.”

Junior Anna Snyder will lead the transformation of the patio space into an outdoor classroom.

“I’d heard about the EARTH program from friends, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of coming to the Virgin Islands and learning about sustainable gardening,” said the horticulture/landscape design major. “The weather’s been perfect, and the kids are a lot of fun.”

GHS Chef LaShanda Francis, who’s helped pioneer the school’s lunch program and has led several farm to table events, will be moving on at the end of the school year to work as the food and beverage manager at a St. Thomas resort.