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Garden Lessons grow

Nutrition, plant life cycles, consumerism and more: The garden at Van Buren Elementary provides a plump harvest for student learning.  The garden, now in its fourth year, supports healthy living, hands-on assignments, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum, said Thu-Huyen Vo, a teacher and garden coordinator at the school. 

“Students are always excited to participate and eager to learn new things," said Mrs. Sabine Cooke and Ms. Gabriela Vargas, who also teach at Van Buren.  “They always show curiosity about what's happening with the garden."  

The garden, measuring 841.75 square feet on one side of the school playground, produces crops such as oregano, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, radishes, peppers, kale, sugar snap peas, potatoes, garlic, and onion, Mrs. Vo said.  

It also features citrus trees, succulents and several butterfly-attracting plants such as lantana, milkweed and salvia.  Coming soon: a guava tree.

Not only are garden-based themes planted in classroom lessons, but “students are also given the opportunity to explore and discover creatures of the garden and attracting insects to the garden," said Mrs Vo.  As for harvested crops, the school shares them with garden student-volunteers and others in the school community to help with healthy meal preparation. 

Meanwhile, students take responsibility for chores such as planting, weeding and watering.  More broadly, such gardens seed limitless learning and impart varied lessons ranging from pollination to environmental stewardship to the value of homemade meals in an age of fast, processed food.

The Van Buren garden also models teamwork, partnership and unity of purpose among teachers, staff, local businesses, nonprofit groups and public agencies.  “We removed an area of grass and had donations for a fence, dirt, crushed materials for pathways, and garden beds," said Mrs. Vo, praising partners such as local nurseries, home improvement stores, ​Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center and Alpha Materials, Jurupa Valley. 

The project also has been nurtured by collaboration between JUSD and the Upland-based nonprofit Reach Out through the CalFresh Healthy Living program in coordination with Gardens & Markets action team of Healthy Jurupa Valley and the city of Jurupa Valley.

CalFresh Healthy Living has assisted the school with garden design, selection of plants and materials, and irrigation resources, said Bernadette Agrazal, Nutrition Education Obesity Prevention Coordinator with Reach Out.  The Gardens & Markets action team of Healthy Jurupa Valley also provided invaluable help in the garden, she said.

The nonprofit also visits the school to give student-volunteers weekly gardening and nutrition lessons, producing a Wednesday garden club.  “This is a perfect opportunity for students to interact with others outside of their social groups as they work as a team," Ms. Agrazal said.  “Students will have a deeper understanding of where food comes from and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and nutrition," she continued.  ​“They can also benefit from the garden as an outdoor science lab where they can learn firsthand all about plant parts, pollinators, minerals and much more."

​Mrs. Vo agreed: “The vision for having a school garden is for it to become a magnet for hands-on learning opportunities for students." 

A plump harvest, indeed.​