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Vinewood Elementary School garden grows food, experiences

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Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 12:17 pm, Fri Aug 12, 2011.

Watermelons stretch their vines over the raised planter beds. Corn tassels sway in the breeze. Tomatoes redden or even yellow depending on their variety under the afternoon sun.

Not only did Vinewood Elementary School staff, students and families pitch in to revive the dilapidated garden, but local businesses helped to bring garden coordinator Rebel Hildenbrand’s dream to fruition. Community members lent their skills and knowledge, from wiring sprinklers, putting up the fence and other tasks in the yearlong project.

Students held a spare change day and raised more than $400 to buy garden supplies. Fourth-, fifthand sixth-graders help after school and learn about being entrepreneurs by selling the harvest. They also learn how farmers have to sell their crops every day.

As parents arrive to pick up their children after school, they also pick up bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, jalepeños and herbs during the farmers market on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Sixth-grade teacher Kirk Rossi even donated peaches and lemons from his own garden for the kids to sell at their market.

The prices of the fresh fruits and veggies run from 50 cents to a dollar and will go back into the Garden Club project.

“Rebel embraced the idea and turned the dilapidated garden into the most beautiful part of our campus,” said Principal Scott McGregor. “The reality of it is that in a tough budgetary time, the school didn’t spend a penny. The community stepped up. Lowe’s was definitely a benefit.”

Of the garden, McGregor says, “It’s welcoming to the children and to the parents as they come to school. Kids and parents are attracted to it just like a garden attracts butterflies.”

“It’s such a refreshing part of school. It’s a happy place.”

As children check out what is for sale, they exclaim how big the zucchini are or ask what each type of produce is. Hildenbrand is excited to tell them what it is and can be used for.

Shaded by her gardening hat, Hildenbrand waters the flowers as butterflies float from flower to flower. She is amazed to see a praying mantis already in the garden. She says that is a good sign. She worries chemicals will float over on a breeze and effect the organic garden.

“It’s really important with weight being a concern our society these days,” says Hildenbrand. “I think it is important for the kids to see where their food comes from and to taste fresh food because it is very different from fast food and processed food. That was a big for the vision is trying to incorporate in that into the school lunch program and to at least get kids to try things that they actually participated in growing.”

The kids have been very receptive to the project. According to Hildenbrand, the are excited to get their hands dirty.

The project also includes a worm chalet in the office, used for vermicomposting. California Waste donated the housing for the worms. The compost provided by the wiggly gardeners provides a wonderful addition to the soil, she said.

Contact photographer Jennifer M. Howell at jenh@lodinews.com.

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