Building a School Garden from the Ground Up
by Jaki Jones
Jun 26, 2013 | 151 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The official groundbreaking ceremony of the Valhalla Edible Garden project took place on May 1. Jennifer Vanya, Principal Marji Calbeck, Mayor Michael Harris, teachers and community members were among those in attendance.
The official groundbreaking ceremony of the Valhalla Edible Garden project took place on May 1. Jennifer Vanya, Principal Marji Calbeck, Mayor Michael Harris, teachers and community members were among those in attendance.
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When Jennifer Vanya saw a plot of land beside the library at Valhalla Elementary two years ago, she knew it could be tamed into an organic garden. After speaking to the president of the parent club and Principal Marji Calbeck about the promise of an edible garden on campus, Vanya was immediately given the green light and the Valhalla Edible Garden project was born.

In the fall of 2012, the Valhalla Dads Network built the first three raised garden beds. The beds were filled with soil on Community Service Day last September and seeds were planted in October, leading to an abundant winter harvest. This spring two additional beds, a three sisters mound and an irrigation system were added bringing in a little more than 350 square feet of working garden space.

“My primary role in the garden has mainly been as a project coordinator, but at times I have hauled dirt, planted seeds, taught classes who stop by to ask what is growing, and walked around the school handing out vegetables to the kids. I have no formal training as a garden coordinator, just my own life experience and love of gardening,” admitted Vanya.

Once the project had gained momentum, a bounty of generosity from the community followed. “The most amazing part of the project has been the range of donations: everything from lumber for the garden beds and fence, plants, soil, and volunteer labor, to a grant from a private donor. We also held a couple of small fundraisers which helped connect the children and parents at school to the project,” she said.

The first crop planted last fall was harvested in February and included: a variety of lettuces, winter greens and root vegetables. The vegetables were prepared by parent volunteers and samples were served to the entire school. “We made a salad from different lettuces and greens, we sautéed chard, arugula, cabbage, and beet greens with garlic, and one of the moms made the most extraordinary root vegetable latkes. It was such a huge team effort by the parents,” continued Vanya.

May 1 was the official groundbreaking ceremony, revealing the irrigation system, picket fence (to keep the deer away), and two additional growing areas primed and ready for a summer harvest. An added benefit of the garden is the educational component; teachers can incorporate garden activities into their curriculum next fall.

Vanya recommends that anyone interested in starting a school garden take advantage of the resources available such as the Contra Costa County Master Gardeners and the California Department of Education. Social media and parent involvement is essential, and she is grateful to parent Stephen Hoeft for his dedication as the co-creator of the garden project.

“The garden is there to teach the children and give them a calm space to connect with nature, and that is surely a benefit to any school,” Vanya adds.

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