Written By: Elise Chad, FoodCorps Service Member with Pittsburg Unified School District
What do you do when your school district is already rocking school gardens?
This was the conundrum I had when I first started as a FoodCorps Service Member at Pittsburg Unified School District last fall. PUSD has gardens at 11 of the 13 schools in the district thanks to a dedicated and passionate Garden Supervisor, Michelle DeCoy. She also gets the garden produce onto the school salad bars and holds monthly garden markets to engage with parents, staff, and students among many other tasks she accomplishes. PUSD’s Edible Garden Resource Center has a very ambitious program and I was happy to help where I could.
When the opportunity arose to start using a small greenhouse on district grounds I jumped at the chance. I had no idea what I was getting into! With funds secured by the FoodCorps Service Member from the year before (Elizabeth Esparza) I was able to purchase seeding trays and soil. We had seeds that had been donated, some that were purchased and others with a Best By date of 1993 (no joke!). Thanks to my records I can tell you exactly how involved I got in the greenhouse. Within the month I had started 20 different vegetables and 1440 plants!! Since that time I have started over 75 different vegetables, herbs and beneficial flowers. I have saved the district over $1,500 in starts and we have gotten hundreds of plants into the ground, nearly eliminating the need to purchase vegetable starts.
The greenhouse is located at our alternative high school which has an intrepid horticulture teacher who was the one to secure funds for the greenhouse in the first place. I have worked with several of her students and whenever they planted or potted up something, the next time they are in the garden, they want to know how their plants look.
These students helped us to hold an herb plant sale from our starts. We sold almost 75 cilantro, chamomile, sage and more, right before Valentine’s Day. This allowed us to directly get our message of fresh, healthy eating to parents, staff, and community members. We also raised funds that will hopefully help make the greenhouse a sustainable operation.
I caught the greenhouse bug because it is an absolute delight every time to see a little plant starting to emerge in its tray. It is mediative to repetitively pot up a brassica into a six pack until all 192 kale plants have been handled. I am learning a lot by trial and error. Not everything germinates (stevia, a package of romaine) or sometimes it germinates better than expected (that kale!). Record keeping is critical, easier than expected with GoogleDocs, and even kind of fun because you can look back on all you’ve done. One of the biggest things I have learned is to not expect perfection and to go easy on myself.
Now that we’ve finally had one full week of sun after the long (much appreciated) rains, I am looking forward to see what else we can accomplish in this tiny, mighty greenhouse.
About Elise: Elise Chad is a first year Service Member with PUSD where she starts vegetables in her little greenhouse in addition to teaching lessons and supporting a multitude of school gardens around the district. She can be reached by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PUSD Edible Garden Resource Center under the Child Nutrition Department opened in 2013 and maintains 11 gardens districtwide. PUSD’s goal is to create an outdoor, hands-on classroom for the PUSD scholars and to promote great nutritional choices. Some of their activities include teaching garden lessons to all elementary school students, hosting garden markets and plant sales open to the community, and having students involved in their gardens. Please check out their very garden-heavy PUSD Nutrition Twitter feed for more information!