Garden spawns horticulture class
Seventh-grader John Little, 13, waters one of the flower beds in the Atimira garden.
Altimira eighth-grader James Dawson is one of about 20 students who are taking a horticulture class as part of his school's new garden.
"I wanted to learn how to grow and take care of plants," the 13-year-old said. "I wanted a hands-on experience."
The class is all he thought it would be, and more. He's just disappointed that it wasn't offered last year when he was a seventh grader.
The horticulture class, taught by science teacher Dutch VanHerwynen, is a new elective for seventh- and eighth-graders at Altimira. The class is so popular that it will be offered again next year, and VanHerwynen is hoping to expand it.
All of the current seventh-graders in the class have first call on next year's class if they want.
Alvaro Pulido is one of those seventh-graders. "I like the class," he said. "I wanted to learn more about planting crops." And he said he's going to sign up for it again next year.
VanHerwynen said he's hoping that next year's eighth graders will be able to mentor the new students who sign up for the class.
While Flowery and Dunbar have had gardens for years, all the rest of the district's schools will soon have gardens. But Altimira has been very aggressive with its project.
While other schools are just starting their gardens, not only is Altimira's garden in full bloom, but the students have been running farmers markets at the lunch hour on Fridays for the last couple of weeks. Last year at this time, the school had a bare patch of ground on the east side of the campus. Now, two greenhouses and 15 flower and vegetable beds have sprouted and there are plans for more as part of the school district's garden initiative.
Fruit trees are planted off to one side and the school, like other schools in the district, will also have a vineyard eventually.
"We're going to be growing grapes for Wolf Pack Red," VanHerwynen said.
The school's horticulture class is unique in the district and VanHerwynen said there simply isn't much horticulture curriculum available for middle school students.
Not only has the district thrown itself into the garden project, with Kathleen Hill leading the charge, but the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation is helping, as are numerous businesses around the Valley that are contributing materials and sometimes manpower.
"The (district's) maintenance department has done an inspired job of putting things together," VanHerwynen said. "And local businesses have been super supportive."
VanHerwynen, who has a degree in horticulture from CalPoly, was in the horticulture business for a while before becoming a science teacher.
The class came about as an effort to add an elective to piggyback on the garden. "At the beginning, nobody knew what (the class) was," he said. But then more and more kids wanted in, and next year, all of the seventh-graders will have signed up for a second year.
Not only will the program expand to include things such as vermiculture, VanHerwynen is hoping to offer a subscription program where people would pay and receive a basket of whatever was in season that week.
Eighth-grader Hannah Powers, 13, signed up for the class because her brother had VanHerwynen as a teacher and this would be her only opportunity to take a class. "I thought it would be nice to learn how to grow things," she said. "I wish we could have taken it in seventh grade."
Powers' classmate, 14-year-old Lauren Blake agreed. "I had a little experience growing things, but I really liked it a lot."
Eventually, there will be picnic tables in the garden.
"I want this to be a community place," VanHerwynen said. "I want people to use this. I don't like locking people out of the garden."
The students and administrators aren't the only ones enthusiastic about the garden. VanHerwynen said everybody he's talked to appreciates the program.
"In my 19 years of teaching, I've never participated in something like this that nobody doesn't like," he said. "Everybody likes this. You don't run into this normally. You usually get, 'I like it, but ...'"