Seeds Of Tomorrow
Davis school gardens teach edible lessons
By Gabrielle Myers
On a winter’s afternoon, golden light casts shadows over a fence that marks the Harper Junior High School garden. I walk with Meghan Covert Russell, executive director of the Davis Farm to School program, and Garry Pearson, who coordinates garden volunteers. Green tips and soft leaves of garlic, spinach, beets, sugar snap peas, broccoli, radishes and cauliflower unfold on the ground.
As we walk the garden rows, wider than normal to allow access, Pearson says he sees kids with their counselors come to the garden to “just veg out.” Covert Russell explains how the garden, “especially after COVID, connects students to each other and their school sites again. They get their hands dirty, and have the best time pulling weeds.”
Davis Farm to School, founded in 2000, is community created, sustained and driven. It’s part of Davis Farmers Alliance, which runs Davis Farmers Market. The organization, devoted to maintaining a garden at every school, is run by volunteers and parents.
Pearson has a background in local ag and was raised on a farm. He describes how “some of the volunteers build things, some plant things.” The program benefits every student and “connects all kinds of people in the community.”
Davis Joint Unified students must have two full academic days of outdoor activities each year. Those days often occur in the garden. Photography, art, robotics and biology hold classes in garden spaces. Students taste tomatoes and learn to distinguish farm-fresh from commercial produce.
Gardens become learning places where students study the basics of plant identification and botany. They receive lessons in photosynthesis and how to care for seedlings. Younger students are taught anatomy of corn and how companion planting with squash and peppers produces higher yields.
Fruits, greens and vegetables go to school cafeteria kitchens and nourish students. Last season at Harper, an abundance of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes showed up on pizza.
At Pioneer Elementary, kids pick tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro and borage flowers. They make salsa from the bounty. Second graders visit Fiery Ginger Farm and study flora and how farms operate. In third grade, students visit Davis Food Co-op’s Teaching Kitchen and make a zero-waste Mason jar lunch, a salad in a jar.
Near the carbon-neutral gardens, local landscapers drop materials for compost. For many years, Pearson brought 75 pounds of coffee grounds each week from a local coffee shop to fertilize the gardens.
Fiery Ginger, run by two graduates of the Center for Land-Based Learning’s California Farm Academy, donates transplants and farm equipment. Seed companies donate seeds. Local agricultural businesses give gifts of irrigation and fencing supplies. Excess produced from school gardens is donated to Yolo County Food Bank.
The program is funded through Village Feast, an event held in October. Female chefs from Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Sacramento Chapter use garden produce to create elegant, farm-to-table dishes. Money raised covers upkeep of garden plots across the Davis school district.
Covert Russell’s commitment as a mother passionate about education shines through when she says, “With all of the violence and mental health care concerns, we need as many caring adults as possible who can be there for our students.”
I think of Pearson’s comment about students who come to the garden to “veg” out. Here’s how he puts it: “Every time we engage and educate one student, we have achieved a significant moment in the student’s life. Hence, we plant the seeds of past, present and future.”
Sometimes what our kids need, what we all need, is more time in a place where we can touch a kale leaf’s fine ridges, smell mint and decaying compost’s floral bouquet, hear red-winged blackbirds call over broad rows and feel winter sun on our cheeks.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.