Students Bring School Gardens Back to Life

Alameda Unified School District’s (AUSD) high school students gave life to two gardens on school district property. A dozen students transformed neglected school plots at Woodstock Child Development Center and Ruby Bridges Elementary School as a part of Project Eat’s "Get Fresh! Stay Healthy!" internship program.

Project Eat is an Alameda County Office of Education program that promotes living a healthy lifestyle through growing and eating healthy food.

"Our program is evolving from a garden-based nutrition education program into a workforce development program for health and agriculture," said Project Eat youth development specialist, Kate Casale. "These internships are perfect examples of that work."

DaMariy’a Compton has been involved in gardening ever since he was a young boy farming with his family. Throughout the years, he continues to take delight in gardening and culinary arts. "I’m interested in food, farming, nature, animals, the environment — all that," Compton said. When he learned that Project Eat was offering high school students summer internships to work in school gardens, he eagerly applied.

Savannah Sands, an Island High School senior, is also interested and curious about gardening and gaining knowledge about nutrition. "I applied for the internship because I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and growing plants," she explains. "And I like to do things for the community."

A few months ago, youth development specialist, Kate Casale, noticed an unkempt Woodstock corner plot. The plot, formerly known as the Longfellow Children’s Garden, was created in May 2011 by volunteers. Over time it became abandoned, causing invasive plants and weeds to grow. When Casale talked to Island High about letting students reclaim the garden, the administration agreed without hesitation.

Both Compton and Sands, worked with Casale at Woodstock this summer to restore the garden to its original beauty. When the high-school seniors started their work last month, the plot was chaotic and disorganized. However, Casale and the students pulled the weeds and tended to the soil, they then planted lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and arugula.

Project Eat interns also transformed the garden at Ruby Bridges Elementary School. Many organizations contributed both people and supplies to the project. Project Peace supplied 50 volunteers. California Native Gardens donated 15 cubic yards of mulch. Ploughshares Nursery sold discounted plants. Afia Walking Tree — an organization teaching irrigation and nutrition, as well as drumming and music instruction — dealt with the plot’s water and taught volunteers about gardening. For Robbie Wilson, program manager at Bay Area Community Resources, the project offered the chance to feed children and teach them about nutrition and the environment.

Soon, the garden was filled with kale, tomatoes, celery, strawberries and chard. By mid-July, children were sampling the garden’s harvests and interacting with the students in Project Eat’s internship. "It’s giving us an opportunity to introduce both the kids and their families to a wide range of produce they may not have tried before," Wilson said.

"We helped plant, played games with the kids, and taught them about gardening," said ninth-grader Meilani Markin. "I would love to do it again."

Alameda High School 10th grader Alleona Elopre worked with Afia Walking Tree teaching children about drumming and nutrition. Not only did the younger kids learn, the teenagers did as well. "I learned so many things that I can take home with me, like about healthy eating and a lot about genetically modified organisms," said Elopre.

AUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge expressed how the gardens create community for everyone. "I really love how this program offers hands-on training in real-world skills while also teaming older students up with younger ones," he said. "I think this multi-generational team has planted the seeds for something bigger in our future."

To learn more, visit the Community News section on the AUSD website at www.alameda.k12.ca.us.

Amy Chu is in the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program as an Alameda Sun intern. She can be reached at editor@alamedasun.com.