Recreating Habitats for an Edible Schoolyard

Written by: Ashley Parrish-Decker, FoodCorps Service Member with Ventura Unified School District 

We got 4 inches of rain on Wednesday, January 6th, and unfortunately, not much of it was captured. In fact, the rain was so poorly infiltrated that major flooding occurred and caused some schooIMG_1495l classrooms to flood throughout the Ventura Unified School District. “Because of the drought we have lost many of our trees and a lot of grass in the back here and that is why on Wednesday we had a ‘river’ rushing through,” Principal Mrs. McMullen said while shoveling mud off the black top at Loma Vista Elementary.

The California drought has affected the city of Ventura in many ways and the lack of this vital resource has really shaped the path I am on. When I applied for FoodCorps I was drawn to the program for many reason but my main reason was to fulfill my desire of providing an ecosystems approach to edible school gardens. Schools have a lot of acreage, and much of it is grass. Grass of course has it place in a school setting, as children need a place to run and play games on. However in Ventura County, where we have been in drought for 4 years now, large expanses of grass just aren’t cost effective. Utilizing some of that space for edible schoolyard habitat, with native plants and fruit trees, swales and catch basins, can provide so much to a school community, so much space for learning. “I believe fruit trees are the gateway produce for students in trying new things,” said Laura Hall with Mastering Urban Agriculture Huntington Gardens.

Will Rogers Elementary has a great edible schoolyard. They have had U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Surfriders’ Ocean Friendly Gardens, and Common Vision come to their school and built beautiful gardens for students to learn in. Since they have 21,000 square feet of native plants and fruit trees, the school itself is responsible for managing the gardens. Kris Guzman, 1st grade teacher at Will Rogers says, they have been successful in having students to harvest fruit, sheet mulch, dig swales, water and weed during P.E. science and recess. Saturday School is also a way to get students of all grade levels in the garden they host family work days some evenings and weekends. She says “Many parents who helped during family work projects have told me they have made application of our techniques in their own yards evidencing community outreach and education.” It’s providing “outdoor exercise and teaching students life skills in using tools, planting, growing and maintaining gardens.”

One of my school sites is Loma Vista Elementary. Like Will Rogers, they have a large native school yard habitat. Thanks to the support of the Midtown Community Council, Ocean Friendly Gardens, parents, students and countless other, the garden has been successfully installed and established. This last rain, the basins for rain water capture filled completely to the top. The water absorbed within a few days and those plants will be able to utilize it through summer months thanks to the soils ability to “sponge” it up.

The garden has yet to be utilized in classes, something I hope to provide this year in the spring. The PTA has funding for an outdoor classroom I hope to bring Common Vision to their schools as well so the students of Loma Vista can see just how great an edible school yard habitat can be. Click on the links to learn more about The U.S. Fish and Wildlife School Yard Habitat Program, Common Vision and Ocean Friendly Gardens. Amazing things are happening in schools all over California, I am so grateful to be a part of it!

PY16 Headshot_Ashley Parrish-DedarAbout the Author:
 Ashley is serving in her hometown of Ventura after spending the past couple of years being trained under the G3 Green Gardens Group of Los Angeles and receiving a couple of educational achievements in Permaculture Design from Turtle Lake Refuge in Colorado. Her passion and interest in permaculture and education have lead to her to her current position as a service member, where you can find her teaching classes at multiple schools and tending to several school gardens.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 8.12.22 PMVentura Unified School District 
will educate all students in safe, healthy, and high performing schools. We will inspire all students to excel academically, honor the unique qualities and diverse backgrounds of all students, build supportive relationships, guide all students to reach their full potential, motivate all students to successfully pursue their chosen life path, and engage all students to become responsible and contributing members of society. To learn more about Ventura Unified, please visit their website.

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.FoodCorpsStateLogo-CA copy

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