Forest Ranch grade-schoolers celebrate birthday of garden that teaches them about Earth and agriculture
Several dozen little Ricky Nelson impersonators disguised as Forest Ranch Elementary School students belted out a tune to the guitar accompaniment of fourth-and-fifth grade teacher Dave Sidebotham.
Sure, the words to “Garden Party” had been changed to suit the situation. To start out: “We went to a garden party/ because dirt made our lunch./ We love to grow our own food/ It makes the world go ‘crunch.'”
A small garden, perched on the fringe of the school looking down on mountain pine trees, was the center of attention April 25 as parents, teachers and students gathered to celebrate the third anniversary of the planting of the attractive mix of fruit, veggies and flowers that ultimately find their way to cafeteria lunches and farmers’ market produce stands.
“They learn about animals, plants and nutrition,” said Margie Smith, whose second-grade class does much of the work in the garden. “I’ve had so many parents come talk to me and say, ‘My kids are eating more vegetables than they ever have.'”
It’s fun, too.
“I think the garden’s pretty important,” said Shannon Wildman, a fifth-grader. “Before we had the garden, I called this ‘the desert.'” Now, she said, “I like the flowers the best.”
Cardboard signs marked what’s already been planted: Peas, melons, strawberries, pumpkin squash and herbs are among the offerings.
As part of Earth Week, students took up cultivators and trowels and added marigolds, hot peppers—even a couple of cherry trees.
“The Earth has given us so much,” Smith told the children. “We want every one of you to put something back in our garden so we can enjoy it each year.”
Special recognition and applause were given to both Smith and the sixth-graders, who “founded” the garden back in 1998. “They’re leaving this year, so we decided to have a celebration,” said Smith, beaming in her plant-emblazoned blouse.
Thomas Miller, one of the sixth graders who helped start it all, was skeptical at the time. “We thought that all the plants were going to die, because the ground was so dry. It was like, 110 degrees—scorching,” he said.
Agreed sixth-grader Kendra Miller: “I don’t really want to leave that much. I’ll miss seeing the garden. It’s neat to see what plants survived.”
The first plant to sprout, recalls sixth-grader Joe Coulon, was an onion.
Later, the children ate a snack of “ants on a log"—the components of which (celery, peanut butter and raisins) could be grown in someone’s garden, if not Forest Ranch Elementary’s.
Smith said it’s just a matter of getting permission from the state—the application is being processed—before the berries, onions and other delicacies can go from garden to cafeteria tray. (In the meantime, they can be served up casually on the playground.) And the farmers’ market certification would eventually provide a way for the children to learn about business and raise money to put back into the garden.
Smith has squeezed dollars out of her classroom budget, and community donations have come in. The day before the garden party, a new shed arrived. “Families have sent seeds in; little things come in from here and there,” she said.
“It’s been a really fun project," Smith said.