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Lunch grows in the garden

Working together: Davidson Middle School students Juliana Masseloux, Christian Diaz Recinos and Sophia Bazalgette filled new raised beds with soil as the project neared completion in January 2005. (Provided by Sadie Melov)


Marin Master Gardeners help realize a natural space at Davidson Middle School

Jane Scurich
Marin Independent Journal


'WHAT ARE WE harvesting for lunch today?" is becoming a common inquiry in Marin schools. Local educators are teaming with Master Gardeners and other volunteers to establish school gardens as part of the curriculum. Hands-on learning happens in the garden - math, science, ecology and nutrition lessons come to life.

More than 40 school gardens in Marin have requested advice and assistance from the Master Gardeners. At this point more than half of these requests have been honored and we constantly strive to address all of the opportunities. Our School Garden committee is revisiting each of the garden projects to inventory the successes and identify where future help is needed.

A majority of the gardens are in elementary schools, but one middle school garden is thriving - the result of one man's passion and a long-term commitment to realizing a dream garden. Jonathan Toste has achieved the coveted designation of "Lifetime Member" after completing well over 1,000 volunteer hours, the vast majority earned while establishing a garden at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael .

Even though Toste is not a school parent, he wanted to change things. "I saw too much asphalt," he says. "School budgets continue to decrease; green spaces are expensive to maintain, asphalt is cheap." He was also inspired by the Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard Project at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley .

Toste envisioned a year-round garden at Davidson, growing edible plants to be used by the school community, utilizing the garden as a learning experience for the students.

Toste's first call for help went to another lifetime Master Gardener, Al Stone, a retired architect. Working together, they designed a garden oasis where children could escape from the concrete jungle and learn to appreciate nature. Stone drew detailed plans for volunteers to follow in building the framework of the garden.

In route to realizing his dream, the Harbor Rotary Club offered financial and physical assistance. The Davidson PTA, local carpenters, school students, School Environmental Education Docents (SEED) and the Marin Conservation Corps joined the team to complete the project.

The garden was conceived in 2003 and christened in January 2005. Seasonal crops now fill the space. Today the garden produces Swiss chard, garlic, onions, oregano, sage, pansies and kale. The school garden lunch program offers students a nibble from the organic garden in a Zen-like retreat. After school, the Student Garden Club works there, weeding, harvesting vegetables and learning to cook with volunteer Ann Brown.

Students learn to respect the soil, identify pests and address them with natural controls (no pesticides here!). They enjoy the fruits of their labor and experience freshly harvested produce.

A gate from the garden leads to a local creek where Toste is currently working on a riparian restoration project. Teachers are utilizing the creek setting for science study.

Although Toste has planted his dream garden, sustaining it is an ongoing challenge. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Toste at jtoste@earthlink.net or 258-9459.

Master Gardeners plan to help design and build more gardens and train volunteers to sustain them. The goal is to advise the local school garden committee, then turn it over to the group, allowing Master Gardeners to move on to other projects while continuing to be available as consultants. To read more about Marin Master Gardeners and the community projects we support, visit cemarin.ucdavis.edu or call the desk at 499-4204.