For every type of person, there is an area of study that makes them feel the most authentic and inspired. At Dayton, there is no shortage of courses and independent learning opportunities for students with vastly different interests. But the question is: What exactly are Dayton’s individual students doing with that freedom?

Four years ago, Dayton High School health teacher Abby DeSmet began cultivating a community garden next to Dayton’s elementary school. It started with a simple purpose: to teach kids how to garden. With tomatoes and herbs to start, Mrs. DeSmet offered her students the opportunity to learn about the values of gardening and having access to fresh produce.

Two years after, a student named Emma Monteith found a piece of her heart in that garden.

Friends tending the garden

Over the summer, Emma offered to take care of the community garden for Mrs. DeSmet, with the help of her mom and friends. Together, they kept the garden in good shape for new crops. The next year, Emma began working in the greenhouse outside of the i3 Center with Mitch Coleman, the high school agriculture teacher. After seeing how passionate Emma was about the community garden, Mr. Coleman became inspired by her drive and donated seeds and money to her.

Then, during this year’s Summer Innovations Academy, participants visited her garden and became inspired by her vision. All in all, she collected hundreds of dollars in donation, as well as seeds and gardening resources from Mr. Coleman, the school, and Dayton community members. With this money, Emma was able to plant a much wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and she is even planning to raise a coop of chickens in the space.

For Emma, it is often hard for her to sit still and focus in class. She has a passion for home economics and has found that if she is not learning in a hands-on environment, her classwork can become difficult to focus on. That is why learning by doing, such as through the community garden and her independent classes are so important for her. Emma says: “If your brain doesn’t work that way, it shouldn’t have to.”

As Emma’s passion for her garden project grew, she started to receive more support from her community.

Emma’s friends gardening together

From the start, Emma knew that Dayton is diverse. So Emma began considering what kind of potential a garden could have in bringing people of different cultures together. Then Emma started getting help from Hispanic volunteers on how to grow and prepare certain fruits and vegetables that she was unfamiliar with — like banana peppers. These volunteers have been a big step in growing the garden’s variety of produce, as well as involving a wider range of community members. Emma says: “We are building this garden together.”

Emma has been able to work actively with other people to help learn new things about culture in food, as well as strengthen her gardening skills. This educational experience has empowered Emma and given her something to fully invest herself in, both inside and outside of school.

It is Emma’s senior year now and she is still regularly tending the garden. Many families from the neighborhood close by visit and pick fresh produce daily. But she would like to spread the word to all of Dayton, to seek out more volunteers as well as help provide for more people. She would even like to bring the produce to Dayton’s schools and show students how amazing it is to have local fruits and vegetables available each day.

As Dayton High School continues cheering Emma on, she is actively seeking the community’s attention and involvement. She would like to teach more people about the value of gardening and share her experiences to potentially invoke passions in others. In doing so, Emma also aims to help bring Dayton’s culturally rich community together one step at a time.

For volunteer and donation inquiries, or to learn more about the community garden, please contact Emma at

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.