Our Spotlight Series in a round up of interviews with members of community including students, teachers, volunteers, donors and supporters. If you have story to share and would like to be featured, please email stories@thehealproject.org.

Beekeeper Spotlight: Pat Morrissey

June 19, 2019

Pat manages the beehives at the San Mateo County School Farm

Pat manages the beehives at the San Mateo County School Farm

How and when did you get into beekeeping? 

In early 2011, my companion Walther had a neighbor Bill who kept bees in town. One afternoon, Bill asked me if I’d like to keep bees and if so, he’d mentor me. I said yes and I fell in love with beekeeping.

What’s something surprising about bees that most people don’t know? 

Bee colonies are a community and every bee has a job. There are nurse bees who take care of the brood and undertakers who remove dead bees from the colony. Construction worker bees that use propolis to seal up cracks, rebuild damaged comb and make comb cells for the Queen to lay eggs. Scout bees that look for new places to live or to let the forgers know where there is a plentiful supply of nectar and pollen.

When the young bees hatch out of their cells they clean up their cells so that the queen can come through and lay eggs. An image of children waking in the morning and making their beds comes to mind. There are cooks and house keepers and guard bees too. All of these positions are held by females. The Drones (males) are also in the colony though their numbers are quite a bit less than the females.  Even though they don’t work they are a very important part of the hive and mating process.

What’s a common misconception about bees and or beekeeping? 

When I first started doing the bee presentations most of the children were afraid of bees and being stung. A fellow beekeeper and I wanted to dispel that fear while making sure the kids remained cautious. We started out by showing the children hand drawn pictures of the many pollinators that exist including butterflies and hummingbirds. We talked about the importance of all pollinators, even those pesky yellow jackets. We discussed what not to do. Don't stand in front of a hive or swat at bees. We explained that the bees may fly close by because they are curious or speed past us on a path heading back to their colony with pollen or nectar.

What can an individual do to help the local bee population thrive? 

  • Plant for all pollinators. Pollinators like volume of many plants so if you plant sage or ceanothus then plant in multiples, not just one or two.

  • Please also put out a bowl of water with corks or large flat rocks and keep the bowl filled with water leaving the rocks barely covered for them to stand on so they won’t drown.

  • Keep weeds with flowers in your yard or lawn. Now more than any other time has it been acceptable to leave weeds that flower in one’s yard, so go for it.


What is your favorite memory about beekeeping?

Watching the transformation of school children over the course of 3 years embrace pollinators because of a special (now retired) elementary school teacher. That teacher embraced project-based education and hands-on learning. They tied pollinators into many different concepts including teamwork, organization, math, art and science. 

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Student Spotlight: 3rd Grader and Intensive Garden Program student takes deep dive into Aquaponics

May 29, 2019

Siena with the classroom aquaponics tank and her book

Siena with the classroom aquaponics tank and her book

Meet Siena Heid. Siena is a 3rd grader at Farallone View Elementary School and recently graduated from The HEAL Project’s 26-week Intensive Garden Program (IGP). Siena is a big fan of the garden and enjoyed her time planting vegetables and making recipes during class. Her favorite recipes were salsa and stir fry. She recalled the salsa had basil in it and her favorite, jalapeños. She loves spicy things and was happy to learn that you can put the jalapeño seeds in the salsa to make it even spicier.

While in the program she learned the hard lesson that many gardeners face, pests eating your plants. Voles have troubled the garden for years but educator, Laurel Bigelow, takes the opportunity to teach her students problem solving skills. Siena explained that if you cover the baby plants with a cup, the voles can’t get to them and once they get big enough you can remove the cup and the voles won’t eat them.

Siena took her interest in gardening further with the classroom aquaponics tank and even wrote a book about it. Aquaponics is a sustainable method of food production in which the waste produced by fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.

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Siena explained, fish poop created a good fertilizer for the plants and that plants helped to clean the tank for the fish. What she liked most was that the system helped both the plants and the fish. She also had an astute observation that not all animal relationships are symbiotic and she wasn’t just talking about predators and prey. She explained, “Caterpillar eat your plants but then they turn into butterflies and help your plants by pollinating. I think that’s pretty interesting.”, I agreed.  She says her biggest takeaway from the program and why she loves it so much is that “Plants, people and animals are all connected!” She even started her own garden at home and has taken many of the IGP lessons home with her, particularly picking the right kind of soil and what grows well locally.


Donor Spotlight: Susan Mihara 

March 25, 2019

Our community is more than just our students and teachers. Hundreds of people give in various ways to build The HEAL Project. Our donor spotlights shine a light on the people who make our programs possible.

Annika helping summer camper make lemonade.

Annika helping summer camper make lemonade.

Who I am: My name is Susan Mihara and I live with my husband (Ted) and daughter (Annika) here on the Coast. We’ve lived here for about 18 years and feel blessed to call home a place with such a strong sense of community, surrounded by incredible natural beauty, including the fields of flowers and the many farms.

What The HEAL Project means to me: I first became aware of The HEAL Project when my daughter was still in elementary school and attended what must have been one of their first summer camps. She was outside, learning about plants, growing food, preparing and eating fresh fruits and vegetables – even enjoying ‘stone soup’! She loved her time at the farm, and the people who ran it – inspired by their passion for teaching kids about growing and eating healthy foods and caring for the environment. Annika, now a junior in high school, has been back to The HEAL project camp each year since, first as a camper, then as a Junior Leader. The HEAL Project educates and inspires – making a difference in the lives of our children and their relationship with food and the environment that will carry into adolescence and adulthood - we’re so glad to support the mission of this amazing organization!

Susan is a part of our Pollinator Giving Club, which means she donates every month. Thank you for your dedicated support, Mihara family! 


Student Spotlight: Middle school student and graduate of The HEAL Project program turns garden skills into a business and writes a plant guide

February 26, 2019

Fisher exploring the garden at Hatch Elementary

Meet Fisher Michelsen. Fisher is an 6th grader at Cunha Middle School in Half Moon Bay. He is a graduate of our 26 week Intensive Garden Program (IGP) at Hatch Elementary that he attended in 2nd and 3rd grade. He says it is hard to remember the details of the program since it was, “a long time ago” but he distinctly recalls making veggie stir fry, “right over there” as he points to the outdoor kitchen of the garden. Fisher also attended 2 weeks of summer camp at our farm in El Granada. Fisher’s mom, Amy Risk, says The HEAL Project program is what sparked Fisher’s interest in gardening and plants. Soon after graduating from the program, Fisher planted a garden in his backyard and began researching what to grow and when. He told me he would try to plant all sorts of things and would pick out seeds from Hassett Hardware. Amy assured me that this new hobby was all Fisher. He spent hours reading about gardening, planting seeds, watering, weeding and harvesting. She said she is so thankful for The HEAL Project because she isn’t sure he would have found this interest otherwise.

As Fisher’s garden flourished, he and some friends who also graduated from IGP started a company, Green Co. This young group of entrepreneurs would harvest kale, mint, and  potatoes from their garden and sell it door to door. “I made 15 bucks in an hour or two!” Fisher boasted. Green Co. was just the beginning of Fisher’s exploration of the plant world. Amy and Fisher won an auction item during The HEAL Project fundraiser, Spring Ahead, to learn about herbalism from local herbalist, Suzanne Elliott. “This opened another door.”, Amy says. Fisher became interested in the medicinal uses of plants and spent hours researching which plants helped which ailments. At this point in the interview he can’t help but get up and point to a plant, “This is cudweed, I could probably make a salve out this!”.  He practiced making herbal salves from local plants, “which most people think are weeds!” Fisher explained. With all this new knowledge Fisher wanted to share this wisdom with others so he wrote a book.

Fisher with Farmer Jon at our market booth participating in our Jr. Marketeer Program

We are proud of what Fisher has accomplished and look forward to hearing what project he takes on next. All in all, we are thrilled that Fisher has taken the initiative to share his knowledge with others. If you are interested in reading Fisher Michelsen’s book on herbalism, you can find it here: Fisher’s Plant Book.


Our community is more than just our students and teachers. Hundreds of people give in various ways to build The HEAL Project. Our donor spotlights shine a light on the people who make our programs possible.

Donor Spotlight: Melanie Washburn

February 20, 2019

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Who I am: My name is Melanie Washburn and I work for W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. as a Clinical Study Manager. I am passionate about world travel, mountain biking, being outdoors, and making new friends. My husband and I live in Flagstaff, AZ with our fur child, Benelli. I live life mainly from the guidance of one of my favorite quotes: "Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth." –Martin H. Fischer

What The HEAL Project means to me: Connection with nature is essential to understanding the importance of our impact on this world. This connection teaches us how to live harmoniously with our environment. My hope is that one day all of society lives in this harmonious state. To make a real impact on society and to create positive, lasting change, a solid base is required. I believe the way to create that base is by starting with the root: children.

Melanie is a part of our Pollinator Giving Club, which means she donates every month. Thank you for your dedicated support, Melanie! 


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