Over the last seven years, I have had the pleasure of working in the amazing GrowingGreat Children’s Organic Garden at Grand View Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, California. Every year brings a successful crop of vegetables that continually flourish in the mild temperatures of the California coast. We plant everything from spinach (makes you strong like Popeye, right?) to the hottest of chili peppers for the best west-coast salsa.
Before I started working in the garden, I never knew that there was an “heirloom” variety of carrots—or that they were purple. The school’s lessons on the parts of a plant never looked so good as with our sugar snap pea seeds and the colorful stems of our bright lights Swiss chard. These are just some of the lessons Grand View students learn through the GrowingGreat program.
For the most part, the children in our area do not have large yards. Our school is blessed to have a dedicated, open space for our garden. Many of the kids have never planted anything, let alone been able to enjoy the wonder of pulling a carrot or radish out of the ground and eating it right then and there. Every child at our school gets the chance to plant, harvest and taste a variety of organic fare that we plant each year. Some tell me they hate broccoli, yet when I give them the “little yellow flower” from the plant they eat it up and swarm around me like bees for more (did you know broccoli crowns are just a cluster of flower buds?). Some students cannot believe the little sunflower seeds they casually snack on actually grow into a plant taller than the school building. Others just marvel at the different shapes and sizes of the pumpkins, squash and gourds that take over the garden each summer.
In the early spring, our plants are just beginning to show their colors. As the weeks progress, the “pollinators” will be busy working on all the beautiful flowers in our Pollinator Garden; the beans will be growing up the corn stalks in our Three Sisters garden; and the Sunflower House should be ready before the school year is out.
Our garden has been a wonderful part of my life over the past several years. I will miss it once my youngest, now in 4th grade, finishes her time at Grand View next year. I will cherish the memories of watching each child as they discovered veggies the way they are meant to be: from the ground and not from a store.
Hopefully these wonder and excitement will be with the students for life, and they will continue to eat their veggies with gusto.
Marci Beech is a parent volunteer with the GrowingGreat program. Like the kids, she does not have a large garden at her home but loves to get her hands dirty with them.