Creating an Edible Schoolyard at Sacramento Charter High School

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Sacramento Charter High School

Two years ago the schoolyard at Sacramento Charter High School was a dry, sparsely landscaped campus. Typical for many high schools, the fenced-in space contained two large parking lots, a running track, and a football field, but little in the way of greenery other than grass. Inspired by the growing school garden movement, coordinator Erika Dimmler of Edible Schoolyard and a dedicated team of teachers and parents decided it was time for students to get connected with the food system and local agriculture and add some green growing spaces as well.

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In just two years, the SAC High Edible Schoolyard has transformed into a lush, thriving garden.

Beginning with two small raised beds in an enclosed courtyard, they planted a handful of peppers and tomato plants. The group assessed the interest of level of students and found an overwhelmingly positive response. Soon after the planting, the garden team began to identify and apply for grants to fund an edible landscape for the entire school courtyard space. A key step in the process was getting the endorsement of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office and volunteer help from the local Extension Master Gardener program, which came just in time to apply for and win a Gro1000 Showcase Garden Grant and a 2013 Jamba Juice “It’s All About the Fruit and Veggies” Garden Grant. Both of these grants marked the beginnings of a now high-profile and prolific garden program.

When asked about their remarkable success for funding the garden project, Nick Anicich, who oversees the integration of the garden program into the school curriculum, comments “I think it is very important for garden programs to look for national, large. scale grants, as well as local, smaller scale donations. I also think it is important for school garden programs to create a Garden Coordinator position. By having a person dedicated to the garden, rather than a teacher splitting time between a classroom and the garden, your program will have greater success drumming up financial and community support.”

Florentino Castellon constructs and plants a raised bed with students from the cooking club.
Florentino Castellon constructs and plants a raised bed with students from the cooking club.
The SAC High Edible Schoolyard began as an empty courtyard in 2012
The SAC High Edible Schoolyard began as an empty courtyard in 2012

Getting the Sac High Edible Garden on the radar of the local Extension. Master Gardener service project list was an important step in creating a garden coordinator position for their garden. Florentino Castellon, a California Extension Master Gardener, took great interest in the project and began working as the volunteer garden coordinator for the program in 2013. While Florentino’s work at the garden initially counted towards his volunteer hours as a Master Gardener, Sac High assessed the importance of his work and was able to provide a salary in its budget for the 2014-2015 school year. Florentino now works three days a week as the garden coordinator. He plays a key role in watering and planting with students and teachers, bringing excess harvest to the food shelf, and facilitating gardening opportunities for the school’s afterschool cooking club.

Today the program is far from its humble beginnings. Scott’s Organics Garden Soil now fills row after row of raised beds. Flowering fruit trees, a bountiful herb garden, and fruits and veggies for all seasons are plentiful and provide a continuous harvest of delicious edibles. Fruits and vegetables are consumed in the lunchroom, during programming, and many are provided to the local food shelf to feed community members in need. Gardening has become a part of daily life at Sacramento Charter High School. From an after school cooking club to a student internship program, the garden is now part of the school’s culture.

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Students plant blueberry bushes provided by KidsGardening.org and Jamba Juice.

“Our students and teachers who are most involved in the garden are no longer afraid to try new, healthy recipes from the garden,” says Anicich. “No matter who is in the garden, whether it is a student, a teacher, or a community member, they are more willing to get outside of their comfort zone and try new things. Similarly, this Thanksgiving we had students and teachers roaming the garden for lavender, rosemary, green beans, okra, and basil to take home to their families. Because our students and staff are connected to their food, they feel the need to share it with others.”

What’s next for SAC High’s Edible Garden? Anicich notes “This year our two areas of focus are implementing more content area classes with garden curriculum and building strong connections with local Sacramento area chefs who are interested in using our produce, hiring our students, and overhauling their restaurants to focus on more local, community driven issues. Because of grants from KidsGardening.org and other devoted organizations, we can make these dreams happen.”

Jenn Tedeschi, COO of KidsGardening.org, presents the 2014 Jamba Juice "It's All About the Fruit and Veggies" Garden Grant to Sacramento Charter High School.
Jenn Tedeschi, COO of KidsGardening.org, presents the 2014 Jamba Juice "It's All About the Fruit and Veggies" Garden Grant to Sacramento Charter High School.

In early November, Sacramento Charter High School received a $1,500 Grand Prize Award from the 2014 Jamba Juice “It’s All About the Fruit and Veggies” Garden Grant in recognition of the their incredible progress and dedication to their school garden. KidsGardening.org Chief Operating Officer Jenn Tedeschi, presented the $1,500 award to principal Jim Scheible and students from the afterschool cooking club. After the ceremony, students and teachers worked together to plant fruit trees, blueberry bushes, and seasonal vegetables. 

The Edible Schoolyard at Sacramento Charter High School is one of the Grand Prize Winners of the 2014 Jamba Juice "It's All About the Fruit and Veggies" Garden Grant. Learn more about grant offerings from KidsGardening.org.