Watermelons are the hottest item in the McCabe Elementary School garden. Every time Liz Peterson walks in the school, she is tackled by dozens of kindergarten and first-grade children asking her when they will be able to pick them.
Peterson started the garden because she wanted to teach the children where food comes from and the types of food we grow in the Imperial Valley. She said she was amazed at how many children thought that vegetables came from the grocery store instead of the ground.
She retired last summer, but she continues to be a mentor for the garden, which is called “Friendship Garden.”
“All our children are friends and we wanted to encourage that,” Peterson said.
At the moment, 14 classes are involved in the project, seven kindergarten classes and seven first-grade classes. They started in February planting spring fruits, vegetables and flowers. They have sunflowers, beets, squash, corn, cantaloupes, peppers, eggplants and the coveted watermelons.
Principal Laura Dubbe said she is very grateful to Peterson for what she has been doing for the children and the garden. She said the children benefit from the hands-on learning.
“That kind of learning you don’t really find it in the textbooks,” Dubbe said.
The garden is completely organic and is funded through donations and an Imperial Irrigation District grant.
Peterson gives the children a little lesson before they plant. She teaches them about the different produce that is grown in the Valley and also about the water, where the water comes from and the process it goes through before it turns up at the faucet.
“The teachers are encouraged to come with the children and see the different phases of the garden,” Peterson said.
Since her husband is a local farmer, Peterson said she solicited his help in knowing which fruits and vegetables to plant. He comes with her to the garden to make sure they are picking up the produce when it is ready.
Once the students pick the goodies, they take it to the lounge where the school staff can take it home.
The garden is student-driven, Dubbe said. She goes to the garden when the students are picking up the produce and she said that she also learns with them.
Peterson said that since the children see the fields every day when they come to school, it is important for them to know what the Valley has to offer.
“We’re surrounded by fields,” Peterson said. “I wanted the children to know what an agricultural town is.”
Multimedia Producer Laura Gonzalez can be reached at 760-337-3440 or email@example.com