A small idea by a woman with big dreams, Brookeland school garden is real now

Don Woods volunteered his time and his tractor to break the ground.

What began as a small idea to plant a garden to provide fresh vegetables to Brookeland school students has turned into a large venture.

According to the organizer, Katie Willis-Acosta, the idea of the garden really grew as local residents and organizations began to volunteer, and now the project has major corporate sponsorship.

Katie says the idea came from her younger sister, Hannah, who was killed by a drunk driver on May 28, 2015 in Beaumont. Willis was only 24 and a senior at Lamar University, just a few days away from receiving a bachelor’s degree in advertising.

“We had the idea after my little sister passed away," Katie said. "She was always interested in gardening; in fact she had worked on a farm for free and donated her pay to a non-profit garden”.

According to Katie, her sister actually planted that seed of an idea to create a school garden. Katie said “Shortly before her death, she said ‘You should plant a food forest’. So, that idea slowly grew over time, to build a school garden and place the vegetables in the school cafeteria”.

The idea became reality after Katie said they spoke first to employees of the Brookeland school cafeteria. They loved it. However, would the school board approve? They did, and the conception started to become reality.

According to Katie, two of the first volunteers to step up were Don Woods and Charlie Beckett, owners of Raybar Services in Brookeland. Don Woods used his tractor to break the ground in a large field next to the school, and then Katie’s mom, Joan Willis, came over from her home in Natchitoches and used a hoe to weed the freshly plowed earth.

Katie said the idea is actually very familiar to her mom. She explained that her mom owns a restaurant in Natchitoches and she maintains a large garden which supplies all fresh vegetables to the eatery.

Now, this is where the story really takes off.

After plowing a small patch of land about 100 feet square, more volunteers came forward, and then corporate sponsors came onboard, and Katie says the little garden is growing without the first seed planted.

Katie said Farmer’s Feed & Seed in Jasper donated a large amount of vegetable seed, and then a large company in Alabama heard about the project and they donated over 500 vegetable plants which are ready to go into the ground. Lowe’s Home Improvement is also now involved, Katie said Lowe’s wants to donate and install a water irrigation system and also fencing around the garden.

According to Katie, on Wednesday the members of Rayburn Bloomers Garden Club will gather to plant the 500 vegetable plants, and Don Woods will be returning with his tractor to plow more ground to create enough space for the donated plants and seed.

Katie summed it up by saying “It’s really exciting, it’s just movin’ along”.

Meanwhile, it’s very evident that Hannah Willis would have had a successful career in advertising. Two and-a-half years after her death, her idea, and the way that she pitched that idea, is turning into a very big and very successful venture.

This story originally appeared on

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