– Southside Elementary School students strained to hear State
Senator Jeff Denham over the roaring farm equipment passing through
the walnut grove just beyond the raised bare school garden beds
Hollister – Southside Elementary School students strained to hear State Senator Jeff Denham over the roaring farm equipment passing through the walnut grove just beyond the raised bare school garden beds Thursday morning.
Denham presented a gathering of approximately 40 first- and second-grade students with a $1,000 check from the California Fertilizer Foundation to get their new school garden growing. Formed in 1999, the foundation awards 24 grants of $1,000 per year to schools throughout the state to teach students about agriculture and encourage healthy eating habits. Food grown in the garden will be served as part of the school’s lunch program.
In a county where agriculture generates $268 million annually, many Southside students are already involved in farming, Southside School Principal Eric Johnson said. But the school garden will reinforce exactly where and how food goes from the Earth to the mouth.
“Food comes from the ground, not from the grocery store,” Johnson said.
Denham, a farmer himself, said he has been on hand for a half dozen check presentations in his district, and hopes to see more.
“We’re trying to get more gardens in all of our schools,” Denham said, “so you can see exactly how all our fruits and vegetables are grown.”
Johnson said the school has been working in accordance with the Local School Wellness Policy to encourage healthy habits and offer healthy options for student lunches. Pamela Emery, director of programs for Western Plant Health Association and the California Fertilizer Foundation, said more schools are focusing on health.
“It’s getting to be a big thing to make sure kids are eating right,” Emery said.
According to a California Endowment report, 24 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in California are overweight or at risk for being overweight.
But the purpose of the school gardens is also to educate students about agriculture. The CFF stretches its resources with donations from local and statewide companies to give students a hands-on mini-farming experience.
Z-Best Fertilizer in Gilroy donated the compost for Southside’s garden beds, and Simplot and California Ammonia Company will donate the fertilizer for the compost. CFF has given Southside a Home Depot gift card in addition to the $1,000 grant.
Each school has the freedom to choose what is grown and spend the grant money how they see fit, Emery said. Southside has chosen to connect an irrigation system and purchase tools for student use. Johnson said the school will begin by planting flowers, herbs and possibly fall lettuce in December. The school will begin planting crops for salad use in February or March, he said.
“We want foods we can use here at the school,” Johnson said.
Southside students have already participated in picking, boxing and shipping nearby walnuts to experience how produce goes from where it is grown to stores where it is purchased, Johnson said.
Michael Van Cassell covers public safety for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 335, or [email protected]