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Sowing the seeds of success

June 7, 2012

Preschool teacher Robin Murray helps the children during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new garden at IMACA Head Start. They used a plastic flower-covered vine and a pair of pruning shears in a spin on the traditional ribbon-cutting standbys. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

Altrusa, Inyo County First 5, Inyo-Mono Master Gardeners, Owens Valley Edible Gardens, Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action and 20 Clarke Street Head Start preschoolers christened a new multi-purpose children’s garden Tuesday, June 5.
Not long after their teacher, Robin Murray, helped the youngsters cut a flowered-garland “ribbon” with large pruning sheers did they scamper off into their produce garden to pick strawberries.
It is hoped the Clarke Street Children’s Garden will yield produce for the school’s meals; excess harvest will enhance their meals at home and will be donated to IMACA, providing groceries for needy families. These tiny gardeners will even be entering their produce in the Tri-County Fair on Labor Day weekend, said Robin Wisdom, director of children’s services under Head Start.
Last but not least, the children’s garden will serve as a “demonstration and inspirational garden … for people who stroll by to get ideas for their gardens,” said key project organizer Patricia Schlichting of Altrusa. The garden “provides an array of methods and ways” to set up a garden to show that “people can grow food at very low costs,” said Jane McDonald, IMACA’s community services director.
Raised beds are a must in this area with “the undernourished and alkaline (soil) … You can be so much more productive with raised beds,” said Schlichting.
“Ian (Scott, owner of Owens Valley Edible Gardens) created this fabulous garden and Tina Slee gave us the funds to do it all,” said Schlichting. Slee, Health and Human Services support staff for First 5, an organization that funds programs focused on nutrition and health issues for children ages 0-5, said the agency was delighted to fund the Sustainable Harvest grant written by Altrusa.
“This wouldn’t have happened without Ian,” said Schlichting, who donated half of his construction period labor and now donates 100 percent of the time he spends on daily progress checks “to keep (the garden) alive; he’s so committed to this project,” said Schlichting.
Where once lay a water-gobbling lawn that required constant maintenance and yielded nothing useful, now stands a garden full of nutritious produce. Upon a cushy floor of mottled bark and hay stands a demonstration of the versatility of raised beds and pots, using new and recycled materials: hefty pecky cedar posts, large plastic pots and tubs, window boxes, cinder block and felt bags. Shade cloth canopies clamped over PVC pipe arches “can really save you” on watering, said Scott, as does the hay soil-coverings. The sum result is a low-water, low-maintenance produce garden.
Throughout the school year, “the cook will incorporate” the children’s homegrown produce into their school meals, explained Schlichting. And the cook will have a lot to choose from: squashes, beans, melons, eggplant, peas, lettuces, cabbage, herbs, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, chard and grapes. Strawberries reside in a two-tiered, cinder block bed. Shade-cloth canopies protect sorrel, lemon grass, tomato and more. Even the nasturtium blossoms – growing on vines which will climb up a decoratively-woven willow trellis to camouflage sprinkler timer system – can be eaten, said Scott.
Tending the garden in the kid-friendly narrow beds and low pots will be full of teachable moments. Murray already helped her tiny charges do April indoor seed-sowing, transplant starts and they “water (the garden) with spray bottles. They’ve picked lettuce” for their lunch-time sandwiches and peppers for breakfast egg dishes.
During summer break, McDonald has organized a few Clarke Street Preschool families who will tend the garden and when children return to school in August. “Hopefully our garden will be cascading with pumpkins” and other produce, said Schlichting.
Next school year, the children will tend the garden and in the winter, they will put in a winter garden, said Schlichting, “so kids can participate all year long,” said Schlichting. “Cool-season vegetables,” said Hannah Murray of Master Gardeners, which turn out better and sweeter in the winter because they like cooler temperatures, include garlic, onions, lettuces, spinach, carrots and greens.
Murray said, “It’s great to see people getting started gardening so young, reconnecting with (their) food sources,” all while “getting good exercise.”
Schlichting expressed additional thanks to “Bishop Nursery … a wonderful, generous resource for us.” And she especially wanted to acknowledge the unsung heros in all of this, the “amazing preschool staffs who are truly dedicated to improving education and enhancing awareness about the importance of nutrition” in every one of the 19 day cares/preschools Schlichting has visited in her capacity as an Altrusa Reader’s Theater participant. “I think … the community ought to be proud of them; give them a pat on the back.”

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