ver the last 25 years, Eden Hinds has had just about every job in education. She’s taught kindergarten through Grade 7, has been an assistant principal, assistant superintendent, and a school turnaround specialist, where she organized the operation of schools in distress or helped new schools get started. A year ago, she moved to Serenbe for a role that would be unlike any she’d had before.
The Serenbe agri-hood is just 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, Georgia, nestled in Chattahoochee Hill Country. It's home to about 750 residents and a 25-acre organic farm, three restaurants, a general store, cycling and pilates studios, a book shop, and a spa. The proximity to nature—forest and farmland adjacent to housing, blueberries planted on street corners—enables a deep connection between students at the Acton Academy and food grown on the land where they live.
They learn to bake bread and grow produce. Guest chefs teach them to cook vegetables and make salads. With just 132 children (72% from Serenbe and the rest from the surrounding communities) and a waitlist of 50, students are grouped in four clusters separated by age range (ages 3 to 6, 6 to 7, 8 to 11, 11 to 14), allowing them to learn at their own pace. We spoke with Hinds about moving to Serenbe, her first year as CEO of Acton, and what kind of education is possible in this special place.
Which came first for you, the job at Acton or living in Serenbe?
The job at Acton. When I was hired I said, "I’m gonna treat it like a car. Pop the hood. Look underneath. Kick the tires. Tell me anything and everything I need to be concerned about." They said, “Really Eden, it’s about perfect.” And I found that to be completely true.
What was under the hood? As a resident and educator, what was it about life in Serenbe that drew you there?
I saw a community that really values childhood. There was a lot of like-mindedness in how we approached education and the innocence of children. They’re not on the roads playing here. They’re in the creek. They’re in the woods building fortresses, carrying spears. It’s all about being dirty and being able to come home completely tired. There’s this beautiful, pure integration of what it’s like to be a child within nature.
How do your students approach food? What are some of their first lessons?
Here at Acton it doesn’t matter about the age. If you have the work ethic and you’re willing to put forth the effort, then you get to move at the pace that fits you as a person. We start off in a Montessori mindset. It’s about developing self-initiative and self-care. So even our 3-year-olds learn how to do laundry. They also wash dishes. We do a complete place setting for lunches and snacks. And we learn what it’s like to serve others and identify rituals, processes, and procedures. So they understand what it is to prepare and clean up at the end of the day.
My daughter is 2 years old and I’m trying to imagine her washing dishes in a year. I would need some kind of stepladder for her to reach the sink. What is your method?
Our little ones use a stepladder (Sous-Chef Toddler Tower by Sprout) to access the sink. Watching an adult or another child in learning steps is important. We always begin with offering a good apron and the art of adding drops of dish soap to water by counting it entering the water. Selecting four to five safe items to wash, kids enjoy the idea of using a dish towel or sponge to clean and rinse. I look forward to hearing about your success with your daughter. We do underestimate their capabilities to contribute, as their talents are there waiting to shine.
How is agriculture integrated with learning?
Our kids go to the farm every other week. They plant seeds and harvest vegetables that they can bring back and have as their snack. We do not have a cafeteria, so we have the opportunity to do a lot of cooking with our kids that you would never be able to do in an urban environment. We see a lot of lessons learned from those that are foraging. They’ve searched through the forest and they’ve found a lion's mane mushroom and that’s part of their lunch for the day. In our ages 3 through 6, we have community meals. So families bring in fresh fruits and vegetables that come from the homes and the farm in Serenbe.
So students see crops from seed to harvest?
Yes. In fact, because of the Acton philosophy, our kids have to have an entrepreneurial opportunity. We have expositions every six to eight weeks, where kids present to the community the work they’ve developed. We have four young men in elementary school that have purchased a part of the farm. They decided to start a company, so they raise vegetables and they sell a membership. And that money goes directly to them as part of their project.
In addition to the physical work of raising organic produce, is science and technology part of learning at the farm?
When our kids go to the farm, the farmers give a lot of understanding about irrigation, also herbicides. Our goal is, when we get our main campus, for our kids to have a garden to do this on their own.
What is possible at Acton that is not in an urban setting?
In public education and in private, there’s a whole world of things we can do. It’s limited to who you are delivering education to. We have to be open-minded. There are creative ways to teach math through food. We’re limited to our own creativity and ingenuity. A lot of my experience was in urban education. I worked in Houston, Texas, at an urban school environment located in the inner city. And we had gardens too. I think the difference is the appreciation of slow growth.
What is slow growth? Most kids grow up in an urban, suburban or rural environment. Serenbe is a rare mix. How does the design of the community shape students’ relationship with food?
Our kids understand that waiting is an important trait and skill to have. And it’s what nurturing looks like. There are so many people in the world; because the world moves fast—I call it the Veruca Salt syndrome—[they say,] “Give it to me. Give it to me now”. The way of life at Serenbe is very relaxed.
We have developed a culture in Serenbe where patience produces these beautiful results. It takes time to understand that things don’t work on your time. They work in the time of nature.
What do you like best about living or working in Serenbe?
It took me about eight months to detox from an urban mindset. But there's an appreciation that sometimes the things we worry about in life are not as important as being able to have the time to sit and reflect on the good things we have. And we can do that here. There is a genuine passion for a way of life that really honours family. There’s a lot of like-mindedness and valuing the simple things that we see everyday. To be able to be out in the woods. To hear crickets at night time. You can see the stars so clearly.