Two Greenback sisters recently placed in a national gingerbread house competition at the Grove Park Inn resort in Asheville, N.C.
Emily Spafford, 11, placed first in the Youth Division, which is for contestants 9 to 12 years old. Her little sister Amanda Spafford, 7, came in third place in the Children’s Division, which is for contestants 8 and younger.
Emily said she was really excited about winning. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth the time. I like putting the house together,” she said. “That’s my favorite part.”
Emily said that even though this was her fourth year at the Grove Park competition, she still gets really nervous. “I just try to calm down,” she said.
The toughest part of the competition often doesn’t even occur when baking at home or while at the resort. Usually just getting the gingerbread houses to their destination can be a challenge. “Last year we went over this big bump and my Nana’s house fell over,” she said.
Amanda said getting the ribbons was the best part of the competition and preparing the house was hard. She was quick to answer her favorite part of the gingerbread house process: “Licking the frosting,” she said. Nana Merry Spafford, a Greenback school teacher and well-known for her classes and curriculum that involves her students in gingerbread house baking and construction, said Amanda had a good time with the frosting.
“It was red and it was everywhere,” Merry Spafford said.
Merry Spafford said this was Amanda’s first time at competition. “She’s made little gingerbread houses at home but this is the first time they’ve had a division for her age group,” Merry Spafford said. “This was her first time going to Grove Park.”
Gingerbread house making is something Merry Spafford has been teaching at Greenback School for 14 years. In that time they have donated $31,000 of gingerbread houses to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital as part of their Fantasy of Trees fundraiser, which begins at the Knoxville Convention Center on Nov. 26 and continues through Sunday, Nov. 30.
In addition, students sent several houses to the Grove Park Inn for the their competition.
“It’s amazing what all the kids here do with their gingerbread. We’re in the middle of building houses for Fantasy of Trees,” she said. “We’ve sent three houses to Grove Park Inn in teen division, and two of them were in the Top 10 and one came in fourth place.”
Merry Spafford was proud of both granddaughters for doing so well. “Emily was our only entry in the youth division and of course took first place. Is that not awesome? She was just beaming. She was floating,” Merry Spafford said.
Merry Spafford teaches family and consumer science and art at Greenback and both courses use gingerbread house making in their curriculum. “My art students do this as their three-dimensional art project, and my family and consumer science students do it as cross-curriculum project that includes every curriculum in the school from math and science to English and communications,” she said.
Merry Spafford said that students in her classes intending to send their gingerbread houses to Fantasy of Trees are asked to start working on them the week of Halloween. “We start making dough and planning houses. Emily and Amanda started in July. I get all the kids who go to Grove Park started by the first of the school year with their house plan. Then they have to start building a model out of foam board so they know it’s going to stand up. That’s the engineering and physics part,” she said.
Merry Spafford said she didn’t know how to make a gingerbread house when she saw a story on Live at 5 about gingerbread house making. “I thought, ‘Neat, I could teach them to read recipes and make measurements by having them do gingerbread houses,” she said.
The students did five houses, and everyone thought it was a huge deal. “I had never made a gingerbread house in my life. I watched that program, got a cookbook and made one that weekend. We started making gingerbread, and it has ballooned,” Merry Spafford said. “Now for Fantasy of Trees almost every single year we have sent 30 houses to that competition and that’s not including Grove Park.”
During Fantasy of Trees, the fundraiser for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital at the Convention Center, Greenback students spend vacation time giving live demonstrations. The students will do 40 demonstrations with four students in a shift.
“We have all sides baked, and they’ll decorate them and answer questions. That’s how they use communication skills,” Merry Spafford said. “They’ll tell about the candy they chose and why and show them how to stand the houses up and how to do the landscaping.”
Merry Spafford said attending the Fantasy of Trees is also how the students give back to the community. “They sell all the ones we demonstrate. In the 14 years we’ve done this, sales of our ginger bread has helped make $31,000 for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital,” she said.
Merry Spafford said she first learned of the national Grove Park Inn competition six or seven years ago after a chef at WBIR noticed the quality of the gingerbread house she and her students were demonstrating on air. “He said, ‘Your kids’ house is as good as one at Grove Park Inn.’ I checked it out and said, ‘This is a national competition, and we’re going to do it,’” she said.
The best year Greenback ever had at the competition was two years ago when seven houses were put in the competition and all placed in the top 10.
Now when Freshmen come in, they want to know when do they start gingerbread? “Right now we have 76 kids involved in the program, and we only have about 200 in the school. It’s a big deal here.”
There’s one more added bonus to the gingerbread house projects and competitions in which Greenback students strive to shine. “The school smells wonderful,” Merry Spafford said.