Uprooted garden sows seeds of renewal at Las Lomas
By Lou Fancher
Sometimes the best way to make a garden grow is to rip it out and replace it with an industrial solar panel energy collector the size of eight refrigerators.
That’s what happened at Las Lomas High School during the 2016 summer break. Students on the Leadership Council working with Global Student Embassy, a nonprofit that engages in global eco-action projects involving local schools, returned in the fall to discover their garden had vanished.
Their astonishment turned to indignation when they were told the school district and Solar City, the company working to implement green practices at Las Lomas, had determined the site wasn’t optimum and had actually placed the receptacle in a different location.
Galvanized, students protested and turned their energy to solutions that not only replaced the garden, but improved it.
In May, a workday in the new, student-designed garden with nine raised beds has a dozen students planting seedlings, painting a security fence, sharing new tools, and building cages around the beds.
The garden contains pumpkins, peppers, squash, berries and fruit trees and more, but the most impressive thing growing in the garden is excitement.
“The beds that Solar City paid for and built for us are good, sustainable wood that will last for up to 30 years. They have edges we can sit on while we work. Our old ones didn’t and were already deteriorating,” says Leadership Council student outreach director Calia Lockey, 16.
Soon, the garden will have chickens. “We want students to learn the harvest schedule. We have a foods program that we want to be farm- and garden-to-table,” she says.
Jill McTaggart is the school’s culinary arts teacher and says students have been drawn to the new garden.
“They came every lunch, after school. They were here until sundown painting the fence one Saturday evening. Imagine,” she says.
McTaggart has applied for grants, and helped organize students to win a recent $2,500 “How Green is my High School” spirit award for recycling. She praises the autonomy and confidence that enabled students to work with Solar City and school officials to reconcile the loss and to seek donations and support.
Solar City paid for fencing and garden beds, and McTaggart credits Dave Humphrey, director of facilities for the Acalanes Union High School District, for playing a pivotal role in the district providing the irrigation system. But she says students showed initiative that taught her a lesson.
“I underestimated their energy, that was my learning,” she said. “It’s real.”
GSE program coordinator Zoe Pearl shares McTaggart’s admiration for the students.
“They work in the garden on their own time. The goal is to develop environmental leaders. Some of the GSE students traveled to Nicaragua and did farm work. They were sitting in houses in Boaco — talking about their garden up here.”
Upon their return, students like Olivia Lewis, 15, rode a wave of enthusiasm.
“There was a man in Nicaragua with a four-month old garden. Already, he had lettuce, corn. He was doing crop diversification. It made me think if we just dedicated time, we could accomplish so much.”
Leadership Council president Isabella Backman, 17, says a recent fundraising campaign raised $300 to replace tools that were stolen or had gone missing from the shed. The neighborhood site NextDoor was asked for a donation that netted $100, plus chairs, worktables and tools.
Backman says she surprises herself by asking teachers if she can leave class early to care for the plants in the garden.
Lockey says after being involved with the garden she now cares about little things, like whether or not a restaurant does composting.
The students dream of a greenhouse, water catchment systems, more beds and better composting system. But for now, they vow to keep watch over summer months to make sure their garden never again disappears.