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Ivy High leading the way with organic gardening


Last updated 12/8/2006 at Noon

How many high school classes have their own mission statements? Not many. Ivy High School of Fallbrook boasts an agriculture class with its own mission statement: “There is a sense of wonder in watching something grow from a seed into a plant. There is a feeling of pride in knowing that you helped it happen. Our mission is to teach an appreciation of life through the process of organic gardening.”

This group of students, led by teacher Sheri Ryan, work hard in the sun and sometimes in the cold to create a bountiful garden. Ms. Ryan wants her students to learn that it is hard work to grow food, but one of the great benefits is to be able to enjoy the sunshine. “There is also the ‘wow factor’,” explained Ms. Ryan. “They see a plant for the first time and say, ‘Wow, is that broccoli?’”

The concept of the garden was born in the mind of Jerry Weiss, who owns Rocky Peaks Farm with his wife, Lynn. It was, and still is, Weiss’s dream to have “A Garden for Every Campus” in Fallbrook, through a program he calls “Fallbrook Schools Organic Garden Project.”

In 1994 when Weiss spoke with Ivy High School Principal Mark Steffler about the project he agreed that it would be a good program. Weiss wanted the students to learn about organic gardening as well as about nutrition.

“Most Ivy students are ‘hands-on’ learners,” said Weiss.

“When they go to the garden they see science in action,” added Ms. Ryan. “It takes more work to create an organic garden with no pesticides, but it is worth it.” There is something fresher and tastier about an organically grown fruit or vegetable.

Ms. Ryan’s classroom is equipped with a stove and oven so the students can complete an entire process. They plant the vegetables from seeds, then grow, harvest, cook and eat the vegetables. “It is a powerful process – it’s that magic,” said Ms. Ryan. “There is nothing like seeing something that you have done yourself.”

There are thirty vegetable beds and one hundred tangerine trees for the students to manage. The students are excited that an avocado tree is finally bearing fruit.

The tangerine trees bear fruit from January to June. “On every table in every classroom are enough tangerines for the kids to eat,” said Weiss.

Ivy High has a greenhouse which took a while to build but is now fully functional with water, electricity and timed misters. “It saves a lot of money because now they start the plants from seeds in the greenhouse,” explained Ms. Ryan. The students are now cultivating their winter crops, such as sweet peas and broccoli. Their next project is to build raised beds and plant strawberries using compost from their own compost heaps.

Sheri is excited about the team spirit that develops among the students. “This is the best part of my day,” she said. “We just have a lot of fun out here, with the kids working together trying to accomplish something.”

When I visited the garden, Liz Camarillo was picking Serrano peppers. “You know that the Serrano peppers are ready to pick if they are red,” she explained. “If they are orange or green then they can be left a little longer. If they are red and are still small they are still good to pick.”

Carlos Estrella, who was tending the broccoli plants, said he likes preparing and working the land, making the mounds and then planting. “It is a good feeling to see things grow.” He has had a garden at home, but this is his first year in this class.

Melinda Loera, who was chosen Ivy High’s Student of the Month for October, was nominated by Ms. Ryan because she is such an outstanding student and motivator in the agriculture class. Melinda said she likes watching the plants grow and finds it especially interesting when the plants have grown from a seed.

Ms. Ryan said that her former students sometimes return for a visit. “It’s a different relationship out in the garden,” she said. “It’s more like a coaching position.”

Weiss and Ms. Ryan are planning to initiate a tutoring program where the more knowledgeable students tutor others in the science of gardening. Other future plans include students helping out with creek restoration by removing invasive plants and replacing them with native shrubs. The group would also like to see orchards, similar to what is found at Ivy High School, on every campus.

Other schools with gardening programs include Live Oak Elementary School, with a wheelchair accessible garden, as well as La Paloma and Fallbrook Street Elementary Schools and Potter Junior High. Special education instructor Sally Opps is also involved with the program.

The garden program is not funded through the school and is seeking donations. Interested in donating? Call Sheri Ryan at (760) 723-6395, ext. 4117 for more information.


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