Discovery High unveils a new school garden — key link in dream to run its own farm-to-fork operation

--- Published on May 10th 2018 ---
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Kendall Vanderford cuts ribbon at Discovery High garden

It’s taking root, the dream.

Imagine Discovery High School running its own farm-to-fork operation, growing food in a large garden that was unveiled today, then harvesting those fruits and vegetables for use in the school’s new lunchtime salad bar and  by cooks in the existing Culinary Arts program.

Each step of the way, students learn valuable skills that can lead to jobs – at farms, nurseries and restaurants.

That’s the vision — and don’t bet against it.

“While working on this project, it became evident that we are not only growing food but growing healthy learners,” said Rylee Welly, Nutrition Services coordinator who helped launch Discovery’s garden and organized a ribbon-cutting ceremony for it today (May 10).

“I believe that food has the ability to bring people together,” Welly added. “And what better way than in an environment where students can work alongside one another to grow their own produce?” She called it “the beginning of a new chapter” for Discovery High.

Today’s ribbon cutting – attended by NUSD Trustees Sue Heredia, Lisa Kaplan, and Supt. Chris Evans – revives a Discovery High garden that had been dormant for years. Old, rundown wooden planter boxes were replaced by 17 brand-new, redwood boxes, each 12 feet long, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Several fruits and vegetables already have been planted in Discovery’s new garden – two clementine mandarin orange trees, Salanova lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers – to get the fledging horticulture project started. A healthy, thriving artichoke plant is growing there, too.

The campus garden complements an existing Hospitality Pathway at Discovery High that consists of a teaching kitchen to train students in cooking, and indoor and outdoor dining areas where students can interact with guests, take meal orders, serve tables, and practice other jobs in the restaurant industry.

Thus, key elements are in place at Discovery for a farm-to-fork operation – a large new garden and an existing Culinary Arts program and Hospitality Pathway. Much remains to be done, however, ranging from developing horticulture curriculum, obtaining approval, finding a teacher, and recruiting students.

No guarantees — but plenty of hope.

Principal Keven MacDonald said he would like someday to link the new garden to Adult Education classes offered at Discovery High – perhaps a Horticulture Pathway can be created in which adults take Culinary Arts,  Hospitality, and gardening to gain a variety of job skills, he said.

Like fruits and vegetables, dreams take time to grow, too.

A key speaker at the garden’s ribbon-cutting was Kendall Vanderford, a retiring Discovery High teacher who helped create the first Discovery High garden nearly two decades ago and, potentially, could be a candidate to teach horticulture at least part of the coming year.

“I’ve always thought a garden was a place where everything grows — including minds,” Vanderford quipped in his ribbon-cutting speech. “Gardening is cheaper than therapy,” he added. “And you get tomatoes.”

On a more serious note, district officials said that students could learn plenty of skills through gardening, including how and where to plant, how to tend a plot, watering do’s and don’ts, how long plants take to mature, and how to discourage pests. Math and science are essential considerations in gardening, officials said.

Even if horticulture knowledge did not lead directly to a job, students could receive lifelong benefits by growing their own crops at home. Fiery Ginger Farm of West Sacramento and Woodland helped to sponsor today’s ribbon cutting and donated small plants – watermelon, cucumber, sweet peppers and tomatoes – for each visitor to take home.

Alex, a 17-year-old Discovery High student who helped paint a colorful mural on the garden’s renovated wooden toolshed, said his family had long ties to farming before immigrating to the United States from Mexico. His grandmother continues to have a green thumb, he said, and he’s inspired by her.

Horticulture will be good for Discovery High students, Alex said. “It teaches you about the rewards you get for being patient and nurturing,” he said. “(Students) will appreciate the reward after their hard work.”