With A Little Help: McClymonds Freshmen Plant School’s First Vegetable Garden

By Miles Mitchell

McClymonds freshman Nicholas Sanford knew how to use a shovel  only because he had once dug a hole in his backyard to bury a dead puppy.  So when he handled “the very delicate roots” of the tomato he was planting in McClymonds’ new vegetable and fruit garden at school, he was surprised and excited.

“I never planted any seeds or plants.” said Sanford. “This was a new experience.”

The school’s first garden — with some 400 plants in 18 raised beds— lies near tennis courts where the poles have been pulled out.

Tomatoes and zucchinis will soon be there for the picking. The garden grew out of a collaboration between the all-male freshman advisory of Vice Principal Jeremy Namkung and Planting Justice.

“Just seeing all the unhealthy food the students eat and get from local stores inspired us to create a garden,” said Namkung.

“Now we have healthy food in the area,” said freshman Donald Howard.  “We don’t have good food in West Oakland.  We have no real grocery stores. ”

Even students who did not participate in the project said they appreciated the value of the garden. “It’s great to come together and build something together with your friends,” says freshman Janiero Rodriguez. “You  help others out, save money, and benefit the community. ”

Planting Justice helped plant and supplied material.  They taught students how to use power drills, cut wood, make flower bed, and put soil in.  Even students who had helped their parents garden learned new techniques. “I learned how to put a  straw in dirt to keep it moist,” said Howard.

Planting Justice staffers and 9th and 10th grade boys planted up all 18 beds with approximately 300-400 veggies, fruits and herbs! 30 tomatoes (five different varieties, thanks to People’s Grocery), 14 peppers, 12 cucumbers, 4 melons, 12 squash and zucchinis, 48 heirloom bean plants, 60 basils, 50 strawberry plants, 36 parsleys, 18 pepetual spinach, 24 arugulas, 18 chives, 36 onions, beets, carrots, yacon, and herbs ranging from sages, thyme, oregano, lavender, marigolds, yarrow, to lemon balm and lemon verbena.

At least three other Oakland high schools — Oakland High, Unity and Fremont — have gardens. Two years ago Oakland High School students and teachers created a memorial garden in honor of a slain student, with the help of an $800 grant from and a $200 grant for supplies from the Open Circle Foundation.

School gardens are a growing trend among schools nationwide. After moving into the White House in 2008, First Lady Michelle Obama made the White House garden into the beginning of a national campaign against childhood obesity, expanding it by 400 square feet and planting vegetables such as backhoe and artichokes. The move created a national focus on healthy food awareness.

At McClymonds, the experience made students appreciate the hard work that goes into growing fresh vegetables.   They learned important lessons, they said.  ” The stinking dirt was the worst part,” said freshman Donald Howard. “And it got in our shoes. But it was worth it.”


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