The Farm and Teaching Team

We have a team of hard-working teachers, farmers and curriculum specialists teaching our K-12 School Farm program, and growing lots of food for the students to eat!

John LaVassar
Garden Specialist
Stay tuned for bio!

Cary Peterson
School Farm Manager 

I am inspired by the enthusiasm of children for fresh food, for working on the farm, and for learning about the world around them.

I am passionate about doing what I can to make a positive difference in the world — caring for the soil (and each other), planting and tending the seeds, nourishing and cultivating our community, and continuing to learn and grow every day.

I’ve been on South Whidbey since 1989 when I first came to the Whidbey Institute Westgarden and started learning gardening there. Many years of gaining experience and working on the land and in the community followed. Caring for land, growing food, and sharing it are keys to the vibrant community we have here on South Whidbey. In 2009 I started the Good Cheer Food Bank Garden, and then started the School Farm program with the School District in 2013.

nadean-seeds1a_2919Nadean Curtiss
Curriculum coordinator

Growing up on Beacon Hill in Seattle was a good foundation for learning to love gardening. We played outside everyday in the summer feasting on fresh raspberries, apples and pears from the neighbors yards. Even more fundamental was the ancestral knowledge that was passed down from my grandmother. She gardened every day bringing what she’d grown or preserved to the table for her family. Hers was a rough life that demanded she work the soil so that her family could grow. All that work turned into love for coaxing food and flowers from the earth and transforming them into the most delicious meals. I remember her kitchen as full of the of garden produce, fresh milk and cream, and wonderful smells and tastes. It was an everyday magic that fascinated me and kept me experimenting with gardens and growing for most of my life.

After living abroad in Turkey and China for the past 16 years, I’ve returned home to Whidbey Island. It’s a blessed place we inhabit here and I feel lucky to have landed back in such a clean beautiful environment after years of fighting pollution and watching over development take it’s toll. China is a country of gardeners. Seems like every small plot of land, including little patches near the sidewalks are cultivated for growing vegetables. While teaching at Nanjing International School I started an after school garden club that was affiliated with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program. We cultivated our little plot on the school grounds and grew enough vegetables to sell in order to raise funds for environmental causes funded by Roots and Shoots. After several years we joined forces with the upper school and moved our garden plot to a larger section of land on the school grounds and called ourselves ‘The Green Team’. The school where I taught grades two through five during my 8 years in Nanjing is an International Baccalaureate school and a critical component of the curriculum is to understand the world we live in and take action as a global citizen to make it a better place.

Nearly 30 years of teaching on three different continents has taught me that I really won’t have enough time to learn as much as I’d like to. Like my grandmother, I started out scrambling to survive and make my way. At some point what I was trying so hard to accomplish changed into a fascination and excitement that sometimes exhausted me, but never left me bored. My degrees received in Special Education, Education and English Language, seem minor compared to the years of work with children from all over the world. Nothing is more rewarding than facilitating curiosity and watching those sparks catch fire. I am lucky to be back on Whidbey in the growing community garden at the Elementary School coaxing food from the soil, transforming time into learning experiences for students and continuing the legacy that acts as a catalyst for a healthy world.

Seth Raabe
High School Agriculture teacher, 7-8th grade Middle School Garden elective, MS Science in the Garden. 

Seth Raabe grew up on South Whidbey, graduating SWHS in 2000. He received his bachelors degree in Ecological Agriculture from Evergreen State College in Olympia, studying abroad in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Hawaii. He lived and farmed on Maui from 2002-2017. Seth teaches the High School Agriculture class, as well as Grade 7 – 8 Garden Elective and MS Science in the Garden. He also c0-manages the HS Gardens.

Kylie Neal – Assistant Farm Manager

I attended the University of Kansas and graduated with a BA in Sociology. Immediately following graduation I participated in my first farm apprenticeship (2006) near Lawrence, KS. I then moved to the west coast and began growing vegetables in the PNW climate. I have farmed in various capacities in various climates from Kansas to Portland to Illinois and finally I arrived on Whidbey Island.

I am passionate about growing food, getting my hands in the dirt and sharing what I know about everything from planting seeds to preparing yummy fresh food with people of all ages. Honestly, I really love eating and I have found that homegrown food or food from local farms is the best tasting food and the simplest to prepare (it stands alone) and I love sharing that yummy yumminess with as many people as I can. It is an added bonus that this food is more nutritious and better for the environment than much of the food that we find in the grocery store. Another added bonus is that growing your own food you are using your body in a way that keeps you healthy also. It’s all a win!

Rory Bolton, Summer apprentice

Rory (he/they) is thrilled to be part of the school farm summer team! A Seattle native, Rory is a recent transplant to Whidbey Island via Scotland, where he attends university. Rory is a passionate creative writer who dreams of one day combining their creative pursuits with a life of sustainable living centered on a small homestead. The opportunity to apprentice with Cary, Nadean, and Kylie is an incredibly rich experience that is allowing him to learn practical skills for the life he wants to live, while helping to give back to his new community in the process. He is so grateful to the School Farms team and Good Cheer for this opportunity and looks forward to the rest of the summer and beyond!

Past contributors:

Jude Bierman
Innovator and visionary, Dream Team and teacher

The contributions that Jude Bierman made to the School Farm program have been extraordinary. Her robust confidence in the children to take on big projects, and in the farm team and the community to help make them happen, was boundless. Because of Jude’s vision and determination, the School Farm program includes a culinary program, the Thanksgiving Farm Feast, and Earth Day events. as well as a inquiry based K-6 farm-based education program. As a teacher with decades of experience, Jude helped craft the farm-based curriculum to integrate it through the grades and was a tireless and in depth consultant to the teaching team.   

Jude’s practical and organizational skills created the Dream Team of volunteers that built the hoophouse, the harvest shed, and many other infrastructure improvements, including a clever handwashing station that accommodates 7 children at once.

Jude’s immense contributions to the program continue to grow and expand, bringing learning, joy and nourishment to the children she is devoted to.