Most people think of gardening as an activity they do at home, but children who attend the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District get to garden at school.
A program began back in 1995 when the City of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment recommended that the school district should have a school gardening program. The City agreed and gave the school district an annual contribution to help fund organic vegetable gardens at all the district’s Santa Monica school sites. The district then developed a curriculum to tie the gardens to their classroom instruction and their nutrition program.
Dean Kubani, the City’s director of then Office of Sustainability and the Environment said the City donated $15,000 to the program for this past academic year and will again donate $15,000 to the program for the 2011-2012 school year. These funds primarily pay for staffing.
“The program has really helped link nature and the environment and tied everything together with the (district’s) curriculum,” noted Kubani.
Staff from his department also give talks to classes on gardening and provide occasional assistance with irrigation.
“The program is about getting kids to understand where their food comes from,” said Donna Richwine, the school district’s nutrition specialist. “It helps promote better nutrition because children are more interested in eating fruits and vegetables that they have grown themselves.”
The district’s elementary schools also encourage their classes to donate their harvest, such as lettuce, to the school’s lunch salad bar. Each class that does this is recognized at lunchtime with a sign and each student from the class also receives a free salad bar lunch that day.
At Lincoln Middle School gardening is part of the special education program. Those in the program use what they grow as ingredients to prepare food in their classrooms. At John Adams Middle School the science teachers integrate the garden beds into their curriculum.
Santa Monica High School (SaMoHi) has a central garden and a greenhouse. They grow lettuce that is used for the salads sold at lunchtime at the student store called the Vikes Inn. Students from SaMoHi’s advanced placement chemistry class have also worked on issues related to fertilizers used in their soils and students have also helped to write curriculum to help tie gardening into their classes.
Olympic High School has partnerships involved with its garden. The chief at the Fig Restaurant, Ray Garcia, works every Friday with the students to use their garden ingredients to make salads, salsa, and other dishes. He also uses some of the harvest from the school’s garden for his dishes at the restaurant. Another partnership is with UCLA (University of California-Los Angeles). They provide student volunteers that help assist with the garden.
Gardening at school helps students understand soil, the interplay of insects, organic and sustainable gardening, and how plants protect other plants.