We sent intern Michelle Saunders out to cover the groundbreaking celebration of Moss Haven Elementary’s new farm. See her report below.
Last spring, while eating a salad for lunch, Kim Aman, a Moss Haven Elementary veteran of 17 years and the “Lead Weed Teacher” as her peers fondly refer to her, was surprised to find that her students had no idea what the radishes in her bowl were.Â She instantly identified a need for nutrition education and the idea of creating a garden was born. “My grandfather was a farmer and he was always teaching me about vegetables,” she says. “So it’s in my blood.” Living in an urban setting, however, most of these kids don’t get that experience.” So, along with Tiffany Walker, a first-grade parent currently serving as the Outdoor Learning Environments committee chair, they brainstormed a garden, drafted a business plan in the summer, and presented it to the school board and the American Heart Association. Less than a year later, the garden is a reality. “We had a combination of right connections, passion, and community support to create the perfect recipe for growing,” Walker says.
The groundbreaking ceremony of the new garden at Moss Haven Elementary took place this morning. The garden is one of approximately 113 official American Heart Association gardens planted in schools across the country as part of the new “My Heart My Life” initiative. Known as “teaching gardens,” or OLEs, the gardens enable children to experience and participate in the entire growing process from seed to salad.Â Not only will they directly learn about science and nature, there is also a specific curriculum provided teachers that will help them incorporate the garden into every subject from math to social studies.
One of the main things that sets the MHE garden apart from the others, however, is the way in which it is watered. MHE’s garden is the only one in the program that utilizes a unique irrigation system that uses 80-90 percent less water than a standard garden would require. These “SIP”(sub-irrigation planters) systems were created by Edgar Hercila of Reveille Gardens, an Iraq vet who was trying to figure out how he could utilize his knowledge of hydroponics and agricultural experience in Iraq to help out back home. He got the idea for the SIPs after seeing issues with sustaining school gardens in L.A.
“Most gardens require water every 2 to 3 days,” Hercila says. “Teachers just don’t have time to stand outside sprinkling water every couple of days, so I thought ‘how can I make it so teachers can actually do this?’” He came up with a simple system that only requires water once ever 10 to 14 days and is as simple as the teachers placing the hose into a plastic pipe submerged in the soil. The water will settle down into the planter beds then essentially bounce back up and through transpiration and evaporation be reused.
As the first bell rang this morning, classes of eager children filed out of the school and onto blue tarps that had been set up for the occasion. Each held a blue bandana and waved it frantically whenever applause was called for or whenever they noticed someone from the media taking their picture. Many were dressed up for the occasion, sporting a wide variety of farm-inspired outfits ranging from construction paper flower crowns to overalls to cowboy hats and boots. There was even a lone pirate in attendance, eager to plant in his tri-cornered hat.
Kicking off the celebration, District 10 representative City Councilman Jerry Allen led the crowd, which was primarily composed of students, faculty, parents, and various representatives in the pledge, and gave a brief speech on the history of the farm and the importance of the community’s efforts in creating a garden. Interestingly enough, a white house located just behind the school used to be Moss Farm, a horse farm owned by Highland Park businessman, Harry S. Moss. Moss Haven Elementary is subsequently located on land that was originally part of his farm, so the garden is part of an initiative to “bring back the farm” by educating the community about nutrition. Allen said that the Moss family was known for sharing the vegetables they grew with the community and the garden planted today will do the same thing.
The most touching part of the ceremony was the memorial set up for Marcus Stiggers, an MHE student who passed suddenly earlier in the school year after a severe asthma attack. His family was honored during the ceremony and students watched in support as his family placed an engraved stone on the memorial that they helped to build and will tend in honor of their classmate and friend.
“I think it’s wonderful that we’re doing this for Marcus,” says Nicole, a 6th grader who had class with Marcus.
Located behind the elementary school, the farm currently consists of 20 starter gardens–mostly 4’ x 8’ boxes filled with soil and embedded in the ground. Each class has its own box and, led by their teachers, students took turns digging the soil, planting, watering, and labeling their plants. Lime basil, cinnamon basil, pineapple sage, fern leaf dill, rosemary, apple, and orange mint are some of the varieties planted in Ms. Figueroa’s unique herb garden plot. Other classes planted cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peas, radishes, onions, and cabbages, just to name a few.
The most incredible part of the experience was seeing the sheer enthusiasm as kids ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade got excited–really excited about vegetables and herbs. Everyone wanted to be a part of the entire process–from digging to labeling and even after the fun process of getting grubby in the soil was over, teachers had a mostly captive audience as they explained what each plant was and how it was used. Although the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor won’t be enjoyed for several months, the kids were beyond enthused to be a part of the process. “We’re gonna have fun with it,” says 12-year-old Adis Rodriguez, a 6th grader at MHE. “We’re gonna get down and dirty and plant some vegetables.” —Michelle Saunders