By Molly Wahl and Deborah Kemp
The Madera School Garden in El Cerrito helps students, staff, and families make the connections between food choices, our health, and the health of the environment through hands-on participation in the growing and harvesting of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
The Madera School Garden was started in 2007 by a hardworking coalition of parents, teachers and students. The garden sits on roughly an eighth of an acre and consists of terraced hillsides planted with fruit trees, herbs, native plants, and edibles such as strawberries, pineapple guavas and artichokes as well as a flat area filled with 10 raised rectangular planting boxes built by parents and planted by students with edible vegetables and flowers. The garden’s bright and welcoming colors are enhanced by the painted garden shed and the whimsical garden signs created by the after school gardening club.
The Garden Coordinator is Molly Wahl, a trained Master Gardener with the Contra Costa Master Gardeners. Molly tends the garden, develops curriculum and teaches classes for kids and adults, coordinates garden events, work days, and maintains the school garden website. The garden curriculum Molly has created contains relevant, developmentally appropriate lessons and activities in the fields of science, math, language arts, nutrition, art, and physical fitness. Molly is assisted by parents and teachers as well as by volunteers from the Contra Costa Master Gardeners, an organization that not only provides advice and assistance to school and community gardens but also to home gardeners. For more information about the Contra Costa Master Gardeners go to this site: http://ccmg.ucdavis.edu.
The garden is used by all Madera students, grades K-6. Kindergarden classes plant peas, first graders measure the weather, second graders study different types of insects and birds, and third-sixth grade classes plant, tend and harvest the plants, as well as maintain the compost bins and bird feeders. This year’s third graders created 21 different gardens (each bestowed with a different name, e.g., Leafy Farms, Tiki Farms, Friendly Farms) and lovingly cared for their crops, which they sold at their hugely successful Farmer’s Market on April 27th. Among the bounty sold within an hour were: carrots, radishes, lettuce, peas, spinach, kale, cabbage and herbs.
Teachers have also contributed to the garden’s success by working with Molly to integrate garden subjects with their class room experience. For example, a second-grade class spent a couple of months observing the garden, smelling plants and soil, touching leaves, and listening to birds and insects and then created artwork that represented their sensory experience. In addition, The Madera garden is open at lunch time to third-sixth graders three days a week. During this time, students water, weed, hunt bugs, harvest produce, build innovative structures out of found objects, tend to the worm bin, compost pile, and bird feeders. For other students the garden offers a peaceful refuge to sit and talk with their peers, savor some tasty strawberries or to have some quiet time on the hillside amongst the flowers.
Parents, guardians and grandparents are active participants in the garden helping with construction projects, weeding, and composting. In addition, several families volunteer to be summer caretakers, watering and maintaining the garden throughout the summer break. Parent participation is enhanced by the garden website with its monthly newsletter. In addition, Molly Wahl holds Work-Day Classes for parents. Most recently, 20 parents participated in a Work Day, planting perennial edibles on one of the hillside terraces. The School Garden volunteers also collaborate on community projects such as Earth Day, the school auction and the school carnival.
To find out more about the Madera School Garden go to: http://www.maderaschoolgarden.org.
Richmond resident Molly Wahl is a Contra Costa Master Gardener and is employed part-time as the coordinator of the Madera Elementary School garden. Deborah Kemp is an attorney, Contra Costa Master Gardener and one of the volunteers assisting with the Madera garden.