'He's meant a lot to me': Springfield man turns gardens into classrooms

Kevin Hillman spends his days teaching students the ins and outs of gardening. The proceeds from gardening sales helps employee student workers in the summer. (SBG photo)

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – He calls himself a gardener gone wild, but there is nothing wild in the work Kevin Hillman is doing.

He plants the seeds of success for special needs students with Springfield Public Schools.

Hillman’s classroom is two acres of greenhouses and fields making up the community transition garden project.

“We are harvesting butter head lettuce for a good customer, a local customer,” Hillman said.

Hillman works with developmentally disabled students. They grow fruits and vegetables – many of which are sold at local farmer’s markets and festivals. But this garden has a much bigger purpose.

“It really is about teaching soft skills for employment. It's teaching them how to get along with other, how to follow directions, how to show up on time,” Hillman said.

The money earned from the garden’s bounty stays in the garden, funding a summer program in which students can experience having a real job.

“That is something I will brag about. The funding that we raise at the farmers markets we save for summer and we have a paid summer program. So students will apply, interview, be accepted into the program to work during the summer and they get paid,” Hillman said.

The skills learned in the garden are invaluable skills that will last a lifetime.

“It is rewarding, but it's about them. To see them go on, you feel proud, but man, you feel happy for them,” Hillman said.

“He's meant a lot to me. I've worked for them for three years since Thurston High School,” said Jack Nielsen, a student with the Community Transition Garden Project.

To honor Hillman and the work he does in the community, NBC 16 gifted him with a fishing bag and a gift certificate.

Some of the food grown in the garden is actually served to students in the Springfield district.

If you’d like to try some of the produce, they have a table at the Springfield Farmer’s Market.

If you’d like to nominate someone for NBC 16’s Acts of Kindness, send an email to

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