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Two concepts; two gardens; many volunteers. By Lorie Hammond.

See Willett Elementary’s  third grade winter vegetable garden, led by parent volunteer Christopher Hartley, in conjunction with teachers Ms. Casey, Ms. Owings, and Ms. Susskind. This is the fourth of a series of Spotlight articles featuring gardens in Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) schools, sponsored in part by Davis Farm to School (DF2S), a project of the Davis Farmers Market Alliance (501c3) serving public and private schools in Davis. DF2S is now led by a district-wide garden coordinator, Nate Tauzer, a sixth-generation farmer.


The garden pictured here is Willett Elementary’s year-round vegetable garden, which is thriving in January. Many people don’t realize that some of the best school gardens grow in winter, when students are in school, rather than in summer. At Willett, winter crops make way for spring plantings which will in turn be harvested by new fall third graders next year. It is a never ending cycle, and no space in any garden bed is ever unused.


Although it is January, crops are thriving in all of Willett’s four raised beds. Third graders have decided what they want to grow. The first bed is flowers. Verdant leaves awaiting blooms on poppies, fennel, and other volunteers. The second bed features kale, enough to feed three classrooms. Radishes already grew between the kale plants, as a quick crop equally quickly consumed. Now carrots are emerging between rows, to follow the kale.


The third bed is full of winter onions. Each student will take one home, as they recently did with heads of lettuce. Taking a vegetable home is a highlight for third graders. Parents report that their children eat things they never ate before. In summer, this third bed will burst with sunflowers. Last year’s flowers grew to eleven feet, seven inches, with fourteen inch heads! Students were able to eat roasted, salted sunflower seeds, as well as to feed the birds.


The fourth and final bed, which boasts a tall scarecrow with a bucket head (in process), is big. Two chicken wire fences mark off the center, where snap peas are planted and will grow tall. In the west corner, winter wheat is growing. Few students have seen this crop before. On the east side, swiss chard is coming up. Come summer, this large bed will grow popcorn, a crop that can be cooked at school in air poppers and enjoyed by all.


The concept behind the Willett vegetable garden is parent volunteerism. Interested teachers and parents volunteer to participate. In this case, third grade teachers have integrated fifteen minutes of garden time into their schedules, knowing the benefits that come to their students. One to five other volunteer parents assist Mr. Hartley, himself an agricultural professional, in teaching the third graders. Mr. Hartley leads this effort because he feels this is an appropriate role for parents in a school. He states: “Parents can and should do garden work at the school. It is good to provide support so that students can learn in their classrooms and also out of their classrooms.”  Everything related to the Willett garden is the result of volunteerism, including tools and hoses which people have gifted, and soil and wood donated by ACE, Gotham Greens, and other businesses.


Is the Willett garden limited to one grade level? The answer is NO. A new set of beds are being developed on the path into the school. These beds are supported by DF2S, the Willett PTA, and by local businesses. Fourth grade students, who will take an overnight history field trip to Fort Ross in the spring, are using this bed to grow potatoes and beets to cook and eat on this trip.


Gardens can enhance special curricula, such as the trip to Fort Ross, and new ideas will emerge as teachers and parents evolve them. But there is one caveat. If parents build it, parents (with the help of students) must maintain it. DJUSD management will not be involved. So far, due to the generous help of Mr. Hartley and other volunteer parents, this is not a problem at Willett Elementary.



New this spring at Willett: A Pollinator Garden between school and park

Meet an expert parent volunteer: Jessica Lundberg, and a beautiful new native pollinator garden at WIllett Elementary


Along the north edge of Willett Elementary, a hundred foot strip of land was donated by the City of Davis to the school for a garden space. This land was developed as a pollinator garden over ten years ago, but then fell into disrepair as the parent volunteer at the time moved on with their child to the junior high. However, this year Jessica Lundberg, a horticulturalist and Willett parent, has come to the rescue, along with her son, a Willett student. Trees have been pruned, weeds and dead plants removed, multiple loads of compost delivered and worked into the soil, and garden plots full of native pollinators and other decorative plants have been laid out in attractive swirls, marked by rope fences. Areas have been left open for children to plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables between these base plantings. An area for classroom learning is in development under the shade of mature trees.


This peaceful, aesthetic garden is a gift to Willett School from Ms. Lundberg and her family. I cannot emphasize enough how much the power of DJUSD school gardens is magnified by the amazingly talented volunteers, such as Mr. Hartley and Ms. Lundberg, who make up our parent communities. The Willett gardens are one example of how much difference a few knowledgeable people willing to donate time  can make to a school community. Now it will be up to Willett Elementary community at large to figure out how to maintain their lovely new pollinator garden. Stay tuned for another Spotlight article in the future which will explain how this is accomplished. For now, if you visit Willett Elementary, come and look at the emergent pollinator garden and, if possible, lend a hand so that it can continue to grow.


Lorie Hammond, PhD, is a Professor Emeritus from the College of Education at CSU Sacramento, where she taught science, art and bilingual education and developed urban school gardens with communities of immigrants. She is founder and former director of Peregrine School, a garden-based, experiential learning school in Davis, and has authored the book, Growing Whole Children in the Garden, about seasonal garden education. Lorie is now acting as education advisor for the DF2S program.


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