“Children acquire knowledge through experience in the environment.”

—Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

The vision

The vision for Emerson Elementary is to create an environment that promotes a culture of health within the school and community. 


By creating opportunities for farming, food forestry, and active living on school property, we aim to promote nutrition, entrepreneurship, and sustainability through effective use of natural resources.


This vision will be carried out through close collaboration with surrounding neighborhoods in order to foster a strong sense of ownership.


The design

The ambitious landscape design for Emerson Elementary is based on ideas from a team of 30 people along with teachers, staff, and community members.


They came together in fall 2016 to participate in an extensive brainstorming session and produce the landscape design for the school. 


Emerson Elementary has since undergone major renovations to accommodate anticipated student population growth.


Landscape goals

Food Forest

  • Create a food forest with design elements such as fruit tree guilds surrounded by self-supporting, low-maintenance plants.

  • Ensure that food forest is well utilized by planting things kids like, keeping it open to the community, and using food locally such as in the school cafeteria.

  • Ensure sustainability by engaging the community to help with summer maintenance or providing employment opportunities for community members.


  • Include a working farm that is managed by a nonprofit organization.

  • Develop educational curricula with school such as integrating STEM education and gardening.

  • Promote chemical free farming/gardening.


  • Use the outputs of the food forest to teach entrepreneurial skills.

  • Create Emerson farmers market for children to incorporate all aspects of education into small business endeavors.

Storm Water

  • Utilize sustainable storm water techniques, such as rainwater tanks, underground cisterns, and bio swales.

  • Improve environmental friendliness by utilizing solar power and/or wind turbines.

  • Reduce impervious surfaces and harmful environmental effects of parking lots through use of pervious pavers and/or a parking lot garden.


  • Create an ongoing educational program that brings young farmers from many cultures and cities

  • Perform asset based mapping to bring in the resources and culture throughout the community

  • Create a summer school and after-school gardening program.

Free Play

  • Provide opportunities for outdoor recreation such as a park area, log swings, water pump teeter-totter, and moveable tables and chairs.

  • Provide messy area for unstructured, creative play with natural elements such as logs, bamboo etc.  


  • Incorporate natural beauty through elements such as wildflowers, a labyrinth, and arbors.

  • Plan plantings based on opportunity for year round color and production.

  • Create environments conducive to bees and butterflies.


  • Develop educational materials to teach students and community about water, soil, composting, and harvesting.

  • Increase diversity wherever possible.

Encouraging Nature

  • Develop curricula for learning about nature (bugs, birds, worms, etc).

  • Encourage all forms of nature with bug hotels, possible small farm animal area, etc.

Neighborhood Interaction

  • Connect walking trail to existing neighborhood sidewalks.

  • Promote shared use of the track and playground equipment.

  • Host community events to engage and educate the community.

  • Promote neighborhood use through a community garden and shared compost area.

  • Ensure safety and protection from vandalism by keeping it well-lit, working with TPD, and a neighborhood watch.

Healthy Eating

  • Develop cooking class program to show students and community how to prepare food from the garden. Teach people about calories and healthy eating.

  • Have community events focusing on the garden such as garden lunches or garden potlucks.

  • Build an outdoor kitchen and pavilion for events.


  • Identify grant opportunities both nationally and locally.

  • Develop sponsorship opportunities for local businesses.

  • Work with other community groups to identify partnership and funding opportunities.


Project members


  • Nathan Pickard, Project Coordinator

  • Carla Grogg, Grogg's Green Barn

  • EJ Oppenheimer, Valley Foundation

  • James Spicer, Green Country Permaculture

  • Madden Humphrey, Prairie Woodland Permaculture Design

  • Kelda Lorax, Fairland Farmers Market

  • Lindsey Fladie, Groggs Green Barn, Landscape Architect

  • Joey Lawless, Permaculture Consultant

Advisory Team

  • Thomas Boxley, Wayman Tisdale OU Health Clinic

  • Lamar Brown, Tulsa County Health Department

  • Christy Dancer Busch, Learning for Life, Aftercare

  • Terri Gateward, Virgin Street Community Garden

  • Steve Grantham, Up With Trees Executive Director

  • Dr. Nathaniel Chism, The Urban Farm School

  • Sherron Johnson, Bucks 4 Bread

  • Mary Kell, City of Tulsa Chief Resilience Officer

  • Corey Love, MPH, Tulsa Health Department

  • Braden Pickard, Integrity Farms

  • Katie Plohocky, Healthy Corner Store Initiative (HCSI)/ Real Good Food

  • Kenda Woodburn, OSU Extension Center

Grants Team

  • Chad Call, Tulsa County Health Department

  • Luisa Krug, Tulsa County Health Department 

  • Demalda Newsome, Newsome Community Farms

  • Seneca Scott, Oklahoma House District 72

  • Rita Scott, Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance

  • Danielle Sotelo, Reed Jules Oppenheimer Foundation

Stormwater Team

  • Graham Brannin, The M.E.T., Executive Director

  • Bill Robison, PE, CFM, City of Tulsa Lead Stormwater Engineer

  • Dr. Jason Vogel, OSU Professor & Stormwater Specialist

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© 2020 Emerson Montessori Foundation, Inc.

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