In the chaos of everyday life, between work and family time, it’s hard to find any down time, let alone time or energy to volunteer. Yet there are teachers, parents and community members who carve out their precious time to contribute. One of those parents, Jose Lopez, is a Western Growers employee and a dedicated volunteer at John Adams Elementary School’s garden in Santa Ana, CA, where his daughter attends. As a personal gardener and employee in the agricultural industry, Jose was more than eager to help his daughter’s school out with their garden which was provided by the American Heart Association (AHA) Teaching Gardens program with funding support from The California Endowment.
“Every parent wants their kids to be proud of them,” said Lopez. “Since my daughter is my partner in our own garden, she asked if I had anything to do with the school garden. When I told her that I did not, she asked if I could help Mrs. Taylor.”
Although the school garden was sponsored by the AHA Teaching Gardens program, Jose thought that he and Western Growers Foundation (WGF) might be able to offer an extra helping hand. With the connections made by Jose to the school garden coordinator and teacher, Jennifer Taylor, we set out to visit the school garden and see what we could to do help. At first glance, this school was off to a spectacular start with 10 raised planter boxes full of flourishing fruits, veggies and herbs. Several plants had already been harvested and taste-tested by the students throughout the school year. Some of the students’ favorites were zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, strawberries and lettuce.
So with such a successful garden, what could they possibly need help with?
Guidance. Mrs. Taylor had a lot of questions for us but mostly to Jose who cleaned up the planters while we talked. How do you know when they are ready to be harvested? What can we do about the holes appearing in the leaves? What should we plant next? Jose had an educational answer for just about every question she threw at us. He also took the time to teach the children about the various fruits and veggies as we walked around the garden.
A drip irrigation system. WGF was fortunate enough to receive several drip irrigation systems as a donation for use in school gardens. Jose hand-delivered one system to John Adams Elementary and it will be installed in the coming months. Drip irrigation systems are important for water conservation, ensuring that the plants get just the right amount of water and allow for some autonomy during weekends and school breaks.
And finally, volunteers! Mrs. Taylor is lucky to have such a devoted parent/volunteer like Jose Lopez, but they need to find a way to get more people involved. “The teachers have been doing a great job by teaching the importance of eating healthy. The kids are now taking these lessons to the supermarket and teaching their parents that cucumbers are good for you,” said Jose.
The Foundation is compiling survey data from our pool of school gardens for best practices and plans to share those on our websites: www.westerngrowersfoundation.org and www.csgn.org. Hopefully those success stories from other schools will help John Adams Elementary and Mrs. Taylor to create a plan of action to engage and recruit more volunteers in the future.