GreenLifeNH has been working to expand our outreach beyond Concord and its surrounding areas, so I was excited to connect with Jen and learn more about "A Place to Grow." To me, NH is an idyllic place to raise your children and every space should capitalize on the natural resources that we have at our fingertips. I was especially excited to read about the updates she made to her facilities and her plans to grow. Enjoy! -
1) Please tell us a little bit about A Place to Grow. How did you develop this interest and space? My background is in natural science and mathematics. I began as a high school teacher and moved into the pharmaceutical industry in project management. I love science, nature, people, and problem solving. "A Place to Grow" was born out of a need for me to have a place to grow professionally and have the opportunity to raise my family while I was working. Being a stay at home mom was not my gig, as I enjoy being busy, active and mentally engaged with challenges all the time.
Our school has moved 3 times in the 16 years we have been in business. While these moves have been challenging, we are right where we belong. Our school is located on 13 acres with a spring fed pond, wetlands, and northern hardwoods. It abuts a local farm and town-owned land. This piece of land has been a tremendous gift to our school.
The focus of "A Place to Grow" as a nature based school evolved from the location and the opportunities the land provides. Our playground, as some would call it, is actually a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom. Outdoor classrooms ensure meaningful opportunities for music, movement, dramatic play, gross motor, gardening, sensory engagement, while connecting with nature. We are blessed with an extraordinary outdoor classroom that allows our children to scramble on rocks, build lean-tos with large timbers, dig in a sandbox, climb trees, finger herbs in a sensory garden, and grow flowers and vegetables in our 9 raised bed gardens. Our school is a registered Monarch Waystation, as we have so much milkweed on our property and our plantings have been designed to support pollinators or all kinds. We have two game cameras on the property and we have seen bear, moose, deer, turkeys, raccoons, coyote, and more. The kids LOVE checking the game camera to see who is in our woods.
People began moving to nature-based education many years ago. We have taken this movement and added a wellness policy. As part of our wellness policy, we teach children about mindfulness and include activities like meditation, yoga, and forest bathing. We grow our own vegetables, and make a conscious effort to talk about healthy eating practices by encouraging children to try eating and cooking the foods they have grown from seeds.
We had on super picky eater who came to love our herb sensory garden - they can touch, feel, smell, and taste all of the plants. One day, this child walked by with his father and offered his dad some basil. Dad tried to stop him and tell him it was not ok to touch, but I reassured him that it was fine. The child popped some basil into his mouth and encouraged his father to do the same. The dad looked at me as if a miracle had occurred, thinking "did my kid just eat that?!" It is these small wins that give me great joy!
We also hatch chicks each year in an incubator and then give the chicks back to their original farm. This process is much adored and filled with great life lessons. We look inside the eggs that didn’t hatch and leave them for our woodland animals to eat.
2) What is it like to own a small business in New Hampshire? Pros? Cons? I feel truly blessed to own a business in New Hampshire. The connections are strong and with incredible relationships. If I need something, I usually just ask our community and someone is there to help. Likewise, if people need something from us, we are there for them. Our school has a Community Cupboard for food and essential items, which is stocked mostly by members of the community. When it’s empty, I ask for donations and they magically appear. Here is our Amazon shopping list for those who'd like to contribute.
When our school flooded, the fire department stayed for hours and pushed water out of the building with squeegees. When we need the health inspector, he is always there. The planning board office helped us every step of the way with getting the building approved for occupancy. There are great organizations, like REDC for business advising and coaching that support businesses, and local politicians are tuned into the struggles of business operations. NH was one of the first states to release the ARPA funds for childcare centers. We received our grants in September, and I know that other states still have yet to release their grant application process. I feel truly supported by every layer of the state and local community.
3) Outdoor play is really important for children because it aids in their development and teaches kids to care for the Earth. What are some ways A Place to Grow supports children connecting with nature? Connecting with nature is so important to us, to the point that it is built into our curriculum design requirements. Our curriculum is based on the NH Early Learning Standards and there is an intentional activity designed specifically around “Connections to Nature.” While many of our activities partake in the outdoors or the cycles of nature, it is important to make sure it remains a central focus.
4) Please tell us about your own zero-waste journey. What are some habits you’ve mastered and others you are working on? In 2007, we had a very cold winter and spent several thousands of dollars on propane, even though it was not part of our planned operating budget. We worked with Eversource, NH CDFA, Shakes to Shingles and Revision energy to convert to LED lighting, reduce electrical usage, insulate the building so it was more energy efficient, convert to ASHPs and added solar. We now have an energy star rating of 94.
In addition, we use fabric hand towels instead of paper, which saves us almost $500 a month! We recently added a compost tumbler, but we haven’t started using it yet. Composting will begin in the spring and be added to our curriculum units. "A Place to Grow" is also a certified “Eco-Healthy Childcare”. While our zero waste journey is far from perfect, we have come a long way in a short time to increase our energy efficiency and reduce waste. However we also recognize there is more to do.
5) Anything else you’d like to share? There is a dire need for additional childcare in NH, as much of the state is considered a childcare desert (one space for every three children who need it). We have taken the "A Place to Grow" business model and franchised it, so we can help entrepreneurs start their own childcare business and support the needs of working families. We are actively looking for like minded entrepreneurs to join our franchise so together, we can support the needs of our communities.
"A Place to Grow" was nominated as a NH SBA Small Business owner of the Year and woman small business owner of the year. This nomination is a tremendous honor for me as the owner and visionary of this incredible company. We hope to provide opportunities for new businesses, job creation, increase childcare availability - all with the mission of sustainability and giving back to our communities. It’s an incredibly special opportunity to be recognized as a business leader working hard to make a difference for NH families.