Volunteer efforts make a difference in Gaviota school district, CA

Volunteer Efforts Make A Difference In Gaviota School District, CA

Wed 22 Dec 2010

Story by Jo Ann Brown

Vista de las Cruces School is located in Gaviota, CA. and is a single school within its own school district of Vista del Mar Union established in 1923. Back then, the area’s homestead families lived a rural life of farming and cattle ranching, that still exists today. Many of the families that held title to the ranches and farms from the days of the original Spanish land grants of old California, still live and work on the same land their ancestors did over one hundred years ago.

In keeping with the area’s traditions, there is a grass-roots effort to continue to share the rich bounty of the areas ranching and farming within the curriculum and lunch program at the school. In doing so, the group hopes to teach students and their families how to grow, harvest and cook their own healthy food. Due to budget cuts, proposing any changes to the lunch program and expanding the garden to be anything more than volunteer has been met with hesitation. Despite this, the school has been victorious in its efforts thus far thanks to volunteer parents and community members who have founded a new 501c3 called The Vista Del Mar Foundation. The members meet once a month and are creating a visionary program.

Garden Club members started the year off by planting seed trays in the Pre-K class along with parent volunteers. Students flock to the garden during recess and after lunch when they are eager to talk about what is growing in their garden, help to weed, sample veggies fresh off the vine and share in the garden experience overall. It is a great time to see the students get excited about what is growing, talk about what they had for lunch and learn where their food comes from.

At the start of the school year a panel of volunteers met with Kathleen DeChadenedes, the Director of the s’Cool Food Initiative. Santa Barbara County is fortunate to have this program already in place that offers free culinary training in a 2-pronged approach. The first is to provide training and recipes to kitchen staff through a “boot camp” class. The second is to provide equipment (or kitchen hardware) to do the job. A Needs Assessment will take place in January to see if it is feasible to adopt the program at Vista. This would be funded through a grant from the parent program The Orfalea Fund for the first 2 years.

Garden Volunteers remain committed to continued communications with local farmers and ranchers. All seeds, irrigation materials, compost and seed trays have been donated from the surrounding community. Local farmers share their expert advice on what to plant and when, and are happy to visit the school to share their knowledge. Another new program is the Vista Produce Stand where parents, staff and community members are encouraged to make monetary or produce donations. Volunteers are visiting local farms, ranches and farmer’s markets to collect donated produce. The stand is self-serve with a drop-box. Proceeds benefit the school garden and lunch program that are not supported by the school’s budget. The produce stand is also a great place to bring the community together, talk about the weather, share seasonal recipes and simply meet face to face over fresh organic produce! Volunteers have also partnered with school administrators to set up the Vista Garden Website and Facebook page.

In the modern day era of budget cuts and administrative red-tape, it is good to know that volunteer efforts can easily make a difference if they are organized through non-profit 501c3 groups. We have found that this is proving to be the most efficient means for communication, fundraising, and creating programs that would otherwise not be supported by the existing confines of the school system. Here in Gaviota, the grass-roots efforts of yesteryear have merged with modern day methods. The efforts are creating an awareness about sustainable ranching, farming, history, tradition, cooking and nutrition that will be kept alive for future generations.

About the author: Jo Ann Brown is the Volunteer Director of the Garden, Produce Stand and related lunch program at Vista de las Cruces School is located in Gaviota, CA


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