Senior Brenden Woods enjoys working in the greenhouse with classmates at Kaweah High School in Exeter. But amidst the succulents, flowers and other ornamental plants, he wished there was a way to grow something that could benefit people in need more than brightening up their window sill.
“I wanted to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that could be donated to the Exeter Food Closet,” he said. “It’s kind of like a community garden that is run by students.”
Kaweah High School teacher Bethany Micari asked Woods to come up with a design for a garden and enter it into a contest sponsored by Kellogg Garden Products and California League Baseball, who provide grants for schools as part of their “Going to bat for school gardens” campaign. Woods’ design was selected out of 900 applicants for the community aspect of harvesting fresh produce to help feed those in need.
“I wanted to do something for the whole community and not just the school. I think that’s why my project was selected,” Woods said.
A ribbon cutting for the garden was held on Sept. 15 at Kaweah High School (KHS). Representatives from Kellogg Garden Products, KHS Principal Darin Pace and Micari did the ceremonial honors. Kellogg helped construct five wooden, raised garden beds at the northeast corner of the school. The garden was planted with squash, kumquats, onions, et. Micari said the beds were placed in the back lawn of the property because they will get plenty of sun and are within range of the sprinklers which automatically turn on and off in the summer time when students and staff are scarce.
“This was a really great idea by Brenden and it benefits most of the students at Kaweah and the entire community,” Micari said.
Exeter Unified School District Board member Virginia Padilla said she had little interest in gardening as a child, but now that she is retired has found the activity to be relaxing and rewarding. She said school gardens provide students with a lifelong skill and has endless possibilities for educational enrichment, such as matching plants with the proper soil, planting them in the proper season, knowing when to harvest them and how much water to provide the plants.
“Who knows, maybe one of these students will own their own nursery some day,” she said.
In addition to donating food to the local food pantry, Micari said students can use the fresh produce to make their own nutritious salads or take home to their families, many of which struggle with the rising cost of food. The garden beds will also help propagate ornamental succulents and flowers which can grow there and then be potted and moved to the greenhouse. Micari started the school’s gardening program with the building of a green house in September 2015.
There are currently 45 students involved with the ag program at Kaweah, which is about half of the enrollment there. Many of the students at Kaweah have trouble in traditional classroom settings, so sitting still for too long doesn’t always work out.
“This gives students some more variety in their experiences and allows them to go outside and get their hands dirty,” Micari said. “For most of them, the greenhouse and the garden are their only connection to the agriculture all around us.”
Dave Benningfield, a sales representative for Kellogg, said the garden supply company donated all of the lumber for the beds, the soil and fertilizer to fill the beds, all of the plants to start the garden and all of the tools to plant them.
“They have enough soil left over for some future projects,” Benningfield said.
Benningfield said Exeter Unified School District is the first to win the School Garden Design Contest more than once. Lincoln Elementary won the contest back in 2013. The School Garden Design Contest was sponsored by Kellogg Garden Products, in partnership with the California Minor League Baseball team, Visalia Rawhide.
The contest involved school districts in and around Cal League cities where students created garden designs and submitted them all summer long through the Cal League Teams.
Woods, 10 of his classmates, and 30 parents and teachers were all invited onto the field of the Aug. 25 Rawhide game and were recognized for their accomplishment.