BIG HORN — As a high school sophomore in West Virginia, Linda Sutphin figured she would eventually become a nurse like her mother. After exploring the outdoors as part of a class, her plans changed.

“We actually got to experience science,” Sutphin said. “I knew from then (on) that I was going to be a science teacher.”

Sutphin taught middle school and high school science for more than 30 years before retiring several years ago.

This summer, she has gotten back into teaching for a few hours each week through the Science Kids Garden Gnomes project.

Science Kids executive director Sarah Mentock said Garden Gnomes began in 2009. The program stopped for a few years before resuming this summer at The Brinton Museum. Garden Gnomes costs $150 per student and is sponsored by The Brinton and Rooted in Wyoming and gives students the opportunity to learn about and plant their own gardens at The Brinton greenhouse.

Rooted In Wyoming provided some funding and curriculum, while The Brinton bought seeds — which the kids planted in April — and hosts the students for several hours every Friday morning in June and July. In August and September, students return on their own to pick the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor.

Sixth-grader Garrett Way is one of a dozen students ages 9-12 in the program this year. He said his mother encouraged him to learn about gardening so he could bring back the lessons learned and start a garden at home, which he is in the process of doing.

Way and his partner — there are six groups of two responsible for one garden bed — have a wide array of plants in their garden. Way decided to plant foods he likes to eat, including cabbage, arugula, cilantro, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, watermelon, pimento peppers, broccoli, beans and cantaloupe.

The gardening is going well for Way so far. Weeding can be tedious, but most of the process is straightforward, he said.

He is looking forward to reaping — and eating — the rewards of his hard work. A few beans were ready last week and some cherry tomatoes might ripen this week. Most of the other vegetables should be ready by the end of the month.

Ami Erickson, a Sheridan College agriculture science and biology instructor and Rooted in Wyoming board member, ventured to the greenhouse last Friday with two of her students. They helped the younger students look at different components of a flower and examine seeds under microscopes.

Erickson’s parents were gardeners and, similar to Sutphin, she had a great high school teacher who piqued her interest with field trips into nature. Erickson believes in the importance of engaging with the environment and understanding where food comes from.

Mentock agreed.

“It’s really gratifying to see kids growing their own food,” Mentock said. “We may be growing the next generation of farmers.”

This is Sutphin’s first year instructing something like this. The program has been a bit more work than she anticipated but still enjoyable.

“With science, it’s the joy of watching those light bulbs go over the kids’ heads,” Sutphin said. “You get so many of those ‘wow’ moments. It’s awesome.”

Science Kids provides good background info and can open students’ eyes to areas they haven’t experienced, she added.

“It’s really gratifying when you see kids have that sense of wonder,” Sutphin said. “They’re appreciating their surroundings; they’re appreciating nature. And when they appreciate it, they help protect it.” 

The summer program has offered the chance for a current and former instructor to teach on a limited basis and potentially opened students’ eyes to the beauty and wonder of science.