Bowers Garden-Culinary Connection Team Encourages Ecological Awareness
It all started in the fall of 2016, with a collaborative team of like-minded people who had a vision of providing students access to garden-based, farm-to-table activities and education. This team of educators — ranging from paraprofessionals to teachers and administrators — from Bowers Elementary School are the model of what a successful school garden looks like!
The Bowers Garden-Culinary Connection (GCC) Team formed and bloomed quickly starting with a three-year grant from the SCUSD Career and Technical Education department, with the intent of incorporating the already-existing school garden and culinary-based curriculum. The goal of the project is to provide all students with experiential learning opportunities and real-world skills.
Over the past three years, the GCC Team has gone above and beyond their regular job descriptions, feeling passionate about supporting students through garden education. They have volunteered countless hours and weekends tending the garden, planting trees, attending garden-culinary workshops, hosting a Cooking Club during lunchtime and after school, starting a homegrown, school-wide recycling and composting program, and infusing real-world career, college and life skills into all aspects of their work with students. The GCC Team shares a vision of enhancing students’ school experiences by providing them the opportunity to learn in an outdoor space where they can explore nature, see where their food comes from, and literally learn about the life cycle through nature, science, and food.
“Students are able to make pesto and other treats in the outdoor garden on our fish cleaning table (via the grant) using a combination of Thai basil and Cinnamon basil that are grown by students and for students,” said GCC garden educator and co-lead, Mrs. Mallison.
Real world experiences and career readiness skills for students include a once-a-week visit to the garden during fall and spring to collaborate and plan out gardens and make amendments to plant plots. Fifth graders were even given their own plot and asked to design and arrange plants in a variety of ways. They later collected data on plant height and compared one another to determine which design produced the highest yield. In addition, students incorporated their culinary career readiness skills to make kale chips, pesto pizza, vegetable stir-fry’s, fresh Meyer lemonade, smoothies, baked goods, and other organically homegrown treats.
“I’m so lucky because I got to learn about and plant the cauliflower that I am now cooking and eating,” said a 4th grade student.
Concepts of ecology are a constant in the Bowers school garden, where students understand the importance of living (organisms) and non-living (soil) components. Living organisms such as earthworms are also a vital part of a healthy ecosystem. According to garden educator, Mrs. Mallison, “The worms even have a four-star hotel, that is air-conditioned by a bucket with added ice during hot days. As we continue to teach the students how to keep the ecosystem healthy, we have harvested castings two times this year!” Students learn that adding worm casting manure to the soil helps to aerate and improve its overall structure, while providing beneficial nutrients to plants that they will later help to harvest and use in their culinary lessons.
Future plans for the Bowers garden include the planting of bulbs, installing fencing, and creating an herb-lined walkway with California native plants… perhaps even a small patch of blueberries! The orchard area of the garden currently has about 22 fruit trees that are still young but doing very well. The GCC at Bowers has worked extremely hard to bring all areas and aspects of the garden together, crediting their success to teamwork, a vision that is student-centered and leaving a legacy.
“When thinking of our school garden space, a few things come to mind,” said co-garden lead, Phil Volta. “One, there was a true transformation through teamwork. Two, seeing the students’ excitement as they are exposed to all different things in and throughout nature and food is just awesome! And, three, the personal part of it...the trees that we have planted for Bowers school will be here a lot longer than the rest of us... it’s the bigger picture.” Volta teaches physical education at Bowers and feels strongly about educating and promoting a healthy lifestyle, both inside and out.
Keep up the great work everyone!