Four years ago, the first seedlings in PBMS’s newly created garden began to sprout for the first time. The following year, under the leadership of librarian Sally Kaufman, a garden club was formed to tend to the nutritional greens in an area that was formerly home to a few less-fruitful bushes.
“It’s always a work in progress. We just added another planter, got a bunch of hay from the church that’s around the tree and we always try to add new things,” said Kaufman. “It’s pretty established, but it’s always evolving.”
She and the 20-something members of the garden club meet after school once a week to tend to the plants, taking part in every stage of the circle of life, from planting new seeds to maintaining a healthy growth environment to harvesting ripe vegetables and herbs. The students are also responsible for brainstorming innovative ways to encourage a vigorous, more prosperous environment, even having to fend off crows or other predators on occasion.
“Everything out there is a project,” Kaufman said. “Lately, we’ve been planting just a little bit each week, but we’ll be tending to it, weeding, raking up pine needles or making chicken-wire structures because the crows come out there digging for grubs and pulling at our plants.”
After three years of digging, planting and watering, students are witnessing the success of the program firsthand, which is evident in the bountiful produce generated in the garden.
“We just started harvesting plants for the cafeteria, which has been really cool,” said Kaufman. “We pick it, clean it with the salad spinner and bring it to [cafeteria supervisor] Baba.”
More than just getting their hands dirty, the students are learning valuable lessons in agriculture, small business, science, engineering, math and a multitude of additional educational avenues available through the program.
“We do some cooking and we talk about eating fresh and organic and those kinds of things, but we really want to pull in more of the classrooms,” she said. “A garden can be every subject so easily, and there is curriculum for it everywhere.”
One literature teacher made the garden her classroom by relating how the fictional motif one of the class books, “Seedfolks,” applied to situations closer to home.
“We’re taking baby steps. We really want science in here. Science is endless, even with them just coming out and looking at the bugs and all the different experiments you can do starting seeds,” she said. “For math, students can figure out circumference and depth when we’re filling dirt, figuring out how many cubic yards there are in a plot.”
From the garden to the salad bar to the classroom, Kaufman’s garden club introduces new flavors many students have never tried before, encourages multi-disciplinary learning and invites students to take part in a fun after-school environment to learn and explore.
“It’s a real movement of getting fresher produce into our school, and I think San Diego Unified is definitely taking the lead with it. They realize how valuable a garden can be for every subject and how much students can learn,” she said. “The experience in the garden is that they’re learning firsthand where their food is coming from and they’re starting to see the importance of eating organic food that doesn’t have pesticides and toxins.”
Kaufman said her students are marveled by the fact that they grew the vegetables that nourish the rest of the school with their own hands.
“As I watch these students, they protect the garden. I see them out there during lunch sitting there looking at it, and you can tell they really just have a sense of ownership and pride in it,” she said. “And they’re learning about everything firsthand. It encompasses everything. A garden is really a classroom.”