Sonoma Valley School Garden Project

While visiting Flowery School’s abundant garden four years ago for a story I was writing, I became so enthusiastic that I resolved that we needed such positive education in all of Sonoma Valley’s public schools.

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Among our goals are those of helping students learn where food comes from, how to grow it and how to cook it, in addition to the value of good, clean food they may not even recognize in its natural form (e.g. Jamie Oliver’s television show in which kids in the south couldn’t identify a whole potato.) We want each and every student to have a positive and exciting experience while learning these values, healthy living and self-sufficiency through growing vegetables and fruits.

We also hope to have the gardens’ products used in school lunches and snacks, sold at student-run school farmers’ markets, and the rest sold to local restaurants to help support the program. We would also like to develop a comprehensive culinary/agriculture/viticulture program at Sonoma Valley High School.

How we got it done:

Initially I approached a school board member, Nicole Abaté-Ducarroz, who instantly became my champion with the rest of the board and with school district officials. Nicole took me to a meeting of the district’s S.N.A.C. committee, made up of teachers, food service people, district officials and staff, all interested in the physical fitness of students.
Since the SNAC committee only meets quarterly, and most officials had trouble seeing the value of changing their ways, patience and perseverance were required. Slowly, after many, many personal conversations, all of those participants have come around to be huge advocates and enthusiastic supporters of the School Garden Project, partly with strong advocacy of a few school parents.
Food Service Director Donna Lucci now is eager to work with Sonoma Chef John McReynolds. John was co-owner and chef at the renowned and highly rated Café LaHaye in Sonoma, and now is Executive Chef at Stone Edge Farm. Because of John’s deep commitment to the School Garden Project, the owner of Stone Edge gave more than $100,000 to develop sophisticated gardens at our two middle schools, Altimira and Adele Harrison, where the gift will also put new stoves (there aren’t any) in those schools’ kitchens.
Altimira principal Will Deeths now has made a commitment to take the project and turn Altimira into a Magnate Agriculture Middle School.
The Sonoma Valley community has truly pitched in, with Rotary giving $5,000, Sonoma Materials gave 300 cubic yards of specially mixed organic topsoil, Wedekind’s Garden Center donated $2,077 from guests’ purchases on their Thursday night fundraisers for the School Garden Project, and Sonoma Mission Gardens has provided all organic starter plants, seeds and fruit trees.
I have also asked local chefs to “adopt” a school, where they will help with the gardens and teach how to use the products at home. Several look forward to working with food service leaders to integrate more vegetables and fruits into school foods.
Already Altimira students are donating their veggies to food programs to feed those in greater need.

Expert advisors:

So far experts who have helped us or advised us include Ann Teller, Paul Wirtz, Ross Cannard, Tom Wright, Wedekind’s, Sonoma Mission Gardens, Erik Garcia, Chris and Mike Benziger, John Toulze, and Community Garden and Ecology Center staff.

Stone Edge Farm:

Through Executive Chef John McReynolds has given more than $100,000 to Altimira and Adele Harrison middle school garden development. The gift includes professional stoves for the two schools’ kitchens. Donna Lucci of food services is very excited to work with Chef McReynolds in the future.
Principal Will Deeths now sees us developing Altimira in to a Magnet Agricultural Middle School.

Pledged In-kind Donations:

Erik and Tony Garcia of Sonoma Materials will have delivered 300 yards of specially mixed organic soil to all public schools this Tuesday.
Outdora has donated 11 composters.
Wedekind’s Garden Center has a fundraiser every Thursday evening with free wine donated by wineries, appetizers cooked at the nursery and music. So far they have raised more than $1,500 at 10 percent per purchase and have collected three baskets of tools purchased by customers for the School Garden Project. Update: Wedekind’s gave the School District a check for $2077, gift certificates, and more large tools, now stored at warehouse.
Sonoma Mission Gardens has given one mixed flat of vegetables plants for each of 12 schools for this fall, as well as packages of seed packets for each season at each school. Since the seeds are more than most schools can use, I suggested at each site that students scatter them around their schools and in the neighborhood to beautify Sonoma Valley.
Bloomberg’s Wholesale Nursery has donated a flat of plants for each school, and is willing to repeat that weekly if we can use them.
Chris and Mike Benziger, with help from Franciso “Poncho” Soto have plowed part of the 4-acre “production garden” and have planted winter vegetable seeds and cover crops to enrich the soil for planting next spring.
Patty Westerbeke has offered one acre of her land for the School Garden Project, but Justin suggests there is too much difficulty to take students there to work the garden.
Friedman’s has donated a palate of plastic pots. Sue Sarno recommended that I tour Friedman’s in Sonoma with a staffer and point out what we need and then apply for a special account. The School District already has an account there.
Mission Olive Preservation (MOPREP) has offered olive trees for each school and instruction on the importance of historic olive trees.
Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo Beans has offered beans and talks on the importance and value of indigenous beans, many of which are from Mexico.
Sonoma Master Gardeners have pledged to assist with instruction in the gardens, although the member who offered to head up the effort tells me she wants to return to her role as a professional nutritionist.
Sonoma Garden Club has voiced interest in helping.
Christine Mueller of Women for WineSense has offered to build a website for the School Garden Project, but got busy with personal business.
Rotary donated $5,000 to the SVUSD for building the Altimira green house. I also spoke to Sonoma Plaza Kiwanis and they are developing work projects and financial contributions to the School Garden Project.
Kiwanis members Waldron Landscaping and Scandia Landscaping offered their services.
Sonoma Mission Gardens has pledged to donate an “endangered species” on the Slow Food Arch Gravenstein Apple Tree to each school and suggests that we purchase a Fugi tree to pollinate the Gravenstein and ripen during school year. Manager Lydia Constantini is preparing lists of ideal fruit trees for schools, on a scale of four to eight tree orchards, depending upon venue. We will purchase these trees in the upcoming January bare root tree season.
Becky Larson of Larson Family Vineyards and other members of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers have offered to help us develop educational vineyards at each school.

Sonoma Chefs Adopting Schools so far (both for gardens and cooking instruction)

John McReynolds, Stone Edge Farm: Altimira and Adele Harrison
Saul Gropman, Café LaHaye: Sonoma Charter School
Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze: Woodland Star
Sheana Davis: El Verano

Others who want school assignment:

Nick and Jen Demarest of Harvest Moon Café
Francoise Guerra Hodges of Basque Boulangerie
Karen of Glen Ellen Inn
Dana Jaffe of Saddles

Updated December 5, 2010

Kathleen Hill is the  School Garden Project Coordinator in the Sonoma Valley.

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Kathleen Thompson Hill © 2017

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