School gardens have taken root and are flourishing in Calaveras Unified School District.  We currently have garden programs in three elementary schools, our middle school and at the high school.  Two other elementary schools are in the process of building support to create their own gardens and our goal is to have a “garden in every school” by the end of the 2014/2015 school year.  We are developing the Valley Springs Elementary site as our demonstration garden and will be using it to hold annual “Creating and Sustaining Your School Garden” (CSYSG) workshops to help others in our county and region start or enhance garden projects in their own schools and communities.

Over the last 5 years there has been a great increase in both the interest and support for garden projects in our region.  Much of this has been inspired by the larger state and national movements to address the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics our country is facing.  Schools in our district are now networking to help each other by sharing resources and ideas.  As a group, we have established the following mission and goals for our projects.

Mission

  • Promote and support healthy and sustainable lifestyles, nutrition education, youth development, community involvement and self-reliance in our schools and communities by teaching children and families how to grow and prepare healthy food. 

Goals

  • Teach about the importance of healthy food choices
  • Create academic and experiential learning labs for our schools and communities
  • Have year-round organic gardens that produce food for school salad bars, classroom cooking, garden lessons, Food Bank donations, community members, student markets and taste tests
  • Teach sustainable and organic gardening/farming practices to students and families
  • Increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Implement nutrition and cooking lessons for students and families
  • Provide physical activity opportunities
  • Establish Farm to School programs at each site - connect Food Service with local producers
  • Provide standards-based academic learning opportunities
  • Build community partnerships and systems that can be a model for other school gardens
  • Connect children to the environment and all living things

 

Engaging Children

  • Children from each school site and local youth groups will use the gardens as outdoor learning labs.  Master Gardeners, 4-H leaders, community volunteers, teachers, parents and high school students will use the gardens to provide hands-on instruction in sustainable garden practices, environmental activities and nutrition education. Teachers and garden/nutrition educators will provide standards based, cross curricular activities during school hours and in after school programs. Students will eat what they grow.

Engaging Families and Community

  • The Resource Connection and UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will use the gardens for youth and adult nutrition education, cooking and garden classes.  Local churches and other community groups will use the gardens to produce food and educate families on how to grow their own gardens.

In order to accomplish these goals, and make these gardens sustainable for years to come, we are developing what we hope to be a comprehensive district-wide model for rural school districts that will implement garden and nutrition programs in all schools, pre-school through high school. We are also working with our Food Service department to get food from the gardens and produce from local farmers into our lunch programs. If we want to create healthier communities, we feel it has to start with our children.  The habits must start early and the message must be clear and consistent. 

This past year we have had great successes with many of our garden projects. The Toyon Middle School garden grew over 2000 pounds of produce.  The food was used for cooking lessons in the school’s garden/landscaping class, sampled during “Harvest of the Month” tastings, taken home by students to cook with their families, and donated to the local food bank.  Students also set up a small scale Farmers Market for our school staff. 

At Valley Springs Elementary School we developed a 13,000 square foot lot attached to the kindergarten wing to create an outdoor learning lab and garden space. Over 20 community groups and businesses supported the effort, with more than 100 volunteers participating in the construction of the garden.  In all, we built twenty-six 4’ by 8’ redwood beds, two 4’ x 12’ cinderblock beds, one 4’ x 12’ corrugated steel bed and three large stone beds.  We are currently building eight more 5’x 20’ beds out of wall block.  It addition to the raised garden beds, we put in a 1200 square foot in-ground garden and a large learning area with picnic tables.  Our 4th grade class also designed and built a 1400 square foot mission style garden in the space as part of a class project.  We hope to have an outdoor kitchen and shade area completed by the end of the 2012/2013 school year.

As most of us who have worked on school gardens realize very early on, projects like these require a great deal of school and community support. Laying that groundwork has been essential in the success of our current gardens and has made it possible for us to look at expanding these projects to other schools.  As previously noted, many local organizations, businesses and individuals in our community have partnered with us to support these programs and projects throughout our school district.

Calaveras Unified School District recognizes that as a school system we have the obligation to provide our students with the safest and healthiest environment possible to develop life long learners and productive members of our community.  If we want healthy communities, we must start with healthy schools that not only teach, but also model, healthy and sustainable lifestyles and systems. We believe that healthy people are the foundation for healthy schools.  Gardens play a vital role in providing opportunities for learning about nutrition, being physically active, and making healthy food choices.  Gardens are essential in providing hands-on lessons that connect students with their environment, teach academic subjects, develop healthy lifestyles and encourage community involvement and positive social skills.  They are the natural link between growing food and serving fresh, local produce in school cafeterias. 

We also realize that gardens and nutrition are just part of a healthy and sustainable school ecosystem.  We have been working with our district to pinpoint the different elements we feel are part of a healthy school system and coming up with strategies to prioritize and address each one of them.  This has allowed us to show exactly where we believe gardens, nutrition and farm-to-school programs fit into the big picture of the role schools play in our communities.  We have put these elements into a working framework for “Creating Healthy and Sustainable Systems in Schools” (CHASSIS). This has been a valuable tool in building a broad base of support for these projects in our community and school district.  We are also in the process of building support for an organization we are calling “Gardens to Grow in” to develop the Farm-to-School aspect of the framework in our area.  Attached is more information about Gardens to Grow in, the CHASSIS Framework and other projects we are working on in Calaveras County. 

We welcome all ideas and involvement. For additional information or suggestions, e-mail us at gardenstogrowin@gmail.com

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