growing great kids in goethe’s garden, california

Growing Great Kids In Goethe’s Garden, California

Mon 28 Feb 2011

Story by Sylvia Alvarado

When my grandson attended our local elementary school, I actively sought ways to be supportive through onsite volunteering.

I was asked to volunteer for a wonderful program called “Growing Great”. It was co-founded by Peggy Curry of Manhattan Beach. There are 3 parts:

• Classroom Nutrition Lessons
• Harvest of the Month
• Gardening/Community Outreach Program

I admit that I didn’t volunteer willingly. Working long hours & commuting, left little time or energy for much else. But, as the lessons progressed, though I tried to fight it, I began to like it, as did the children.

They’d call out to us, bidding their hellos to “Miss Sylvia, Miss Paula and Miss Vicki” and ask when we’d return. They associated us with food. I saw that this program had a unifying affect as we established rapport and trust with the children and staff.

Knowing not a thing about vegetable gardening, I was quick to decline when asked to manage the garden program which had not yet been established. Then I was inspired by a group of 5th graders surrounding me during a Harvest of the Month sampling of raw broccoli.

They were ravenous. I learned that they hadn’t had breakfast, nor did they bring lunch or have money to buy one. I knew I had to do something that would empower them, rather than allow them to feel entirely reliant upon someone else for nourishment. I believed that if I could teach these children to garden and grow their own food, even if it were just in containers on their porch, they would have fewer days of hunger.

With friends and grandson in tow, we planted 12 plots before summer break. I thought that if the garden was ready for harvest in the fall, we could inspire excitement and support. And so it went. Our summer was spent becoming familiar with plants, soil, ants and the heat.

The garden grew and with it came curious flying creatures, sprouting seeds, budding fruit and moments of togetherness with Dameon, my grandson, lying in the grass under a tree, sharing a meal of freshly picked salad greens, tomatoes, snow peas and carrots.

When the teachers returned for fall, Dameon was eager to show them around. Here is where the student became the teacher and the teacher, the student. His pride of accomplishment soared!

Seeing us tend a once neglected garden drew attention from some of the children that I had met in class as well. They knew me, trusted me and felt safe coming into the garden. These particular children, were of the “rambunctious persuasion”. You know the ones; the mischief makers. Suddenly they were fascinated and engaged. They were hopeful that we’d have an afterschool gardening club.

Soon thereafter, Dameon was offered placement in a new school. We moved on, but their garden program is thriving.

The new school is a marvelous multi language school called Goethe International Charter in Los Angeles. The show of interest and support from parents for the Growing Great program was remarkable! Funding from the general budget, for the curriculum, was approved by the board and we began with the first two segments of the program.

Together, the volunteers and children enjoy the interactive lessons, food samplings and playful ways of learning healthy options. We have a fantastic group of parents that team together to support each other in making this happen.

On the short list, the fundraising effort for equipment and materials for the garden program includes the following:

• “Coins for Carrots”: a week in advance, we post a notice advising our school community that children and adults with colorful watering cans in hand, will be curbside during morning drop off. We ask that they bring a handful, a bucketful, a sack full or a sock full of coins. Every coin from one’s purse, pocket, couch, pouch, jar or car is welcome to join us in the watering cans. Within an hour, we raised over $350.

• Then we’ll be screening “Race to Nowhere”, where we’ll also be inviting Artisanal L.A. food vendors in March. We’ve been graciously offered a venue by Markus Almer of Almer/Blank in Venice, CA.

• We’re planning an online fundraiser through a site called “Crowdrise”. Here, we’ll post details of our project, the monetary goal and deadline. We’ll also offer various acknowledgements depending on the contribution such as a plaque on a garden plot or other structure, a wall plaque for home or business, a link to their website on our pending “Friends of the Garden” page or a combination of ideas.

• From our wish list, we’ll continue to seek donations of items like lumber, for our fabulous “MBraces” that were generously donated to us in less than a blink, by inventor Jill Plumb at Art of the Garden .

• These are decorative and sturdy metal corner braces made from recycled steel that don’t require tools to build raised beds. Simply slide lumber into the slots and voila! Done!

• Then on to a celebratory Garden Party hosting international entertainment offered by the global performers of Nobresil.

In Goethe’s Garden, food will take on a fresh meaning. We’ll empower our children with knowledge, bring our community together and introduce a new kind of magic.

About the author: Sylvia Alvarado is a parent volunteer at Goethe International Charter in LA, California.


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