Skip to Content


How to Grow a Community

Nadine Simpson


As a baby boomer attending college in the 1960s, Les Kishler was deeply moved by Rachel Carson’s environmentalist tract Silent Spring. After devoting his teaching career to teaching science, Kishler has now founded a nonprofit that aims to give back to the earth.

After 36 years teaching biology—19 years at Saratoga High School and another 17 years at Los Gatos High School, both in California —Kishler retired from full-time teaching. He still conducts one class, but devotes most of his time to Community Gardens as Appleseeds, the nonprofit foundation he and his wife founded together.

The group’s main work is to help communities establish communal gardens that bring people together and teach young people the basics of agroecology (an approach to agriculture concerned with the ecological impact of its practices) while beautifying the area. Many of those communities donate their excess produce to Second Harvest Food Bank and other organizations.

Community  Gardens as Appleseeds has also helped develop sustainable gardening curricula for schools; lobbied successfully to add agroecology to Miriam Webster dictionary; and worked with the United Farm Workers to promote Silicon Valley ’s agricultural heritage. Kishler has received lots of positive feedback and praise for his project from community members and public figures alike, including a California legislator and folk singer/environmentalist Pete Seeger.

For Kishler, the most rewarding part is seeing both young children and older adults grow something for the first time. “The reaction that people get from something they’ve done themselves makes up my string of favorite memories.”

The Doctor is In

Ever since she sped through high school and started college at 16, Pauline Hathorn has been driven to succeed.

So it’s no surprise that she earned her Ph.D. She just never imagined it would take so long.

“I’ve been trying to get a doctorate for years, but things in life just happened,” she reflected. “I never put it out of my mind, though.”

On May 14, 2005, at the age of 71, Hathorn became the oldest graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education. She didn’t begin work on her Ph.D. until the age of 67, after retiring from a 40-year career teaching inner-city students. She had already earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s.

Although her grown children were apprehensive about their mother taking on such a daunting challenge, they supported her.

One of the most important lessons, says Hathorn, is realizing that “you’re never too old. There’s no such thing. Say yesterday you were 64 and today you’re going to be 65. Yesterday, you were working and energetic, but now you have to shut everything down? It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Fortified by her new degree, Hathorn plans to become a literacy coach for new teachers working in the inner city.  

Published in:

Published In