The recess bell rings at George Washington Elementary School in Burbank, California, and the kids tear out of the classroom. To play on the monkey bars? A game of dodge ball? Nope. They’re headed straight for the vegetable garden.
On a quarter-acre lot that was once covered with asphalt, these first- through fifth-graders are growing tomatoes, herbs, “monster radishes,” squash, fruit and nut trees, and more. In their weekly science class (and during recesses, when they can sneak in) the students dig, plant, play and learn in this innovative outdoor classroom.
The goal of this “environmental park” is to teach urban students about applied ecology. Activities include composting, soil restoration, building water catchments, garden design, insect studies, and exchanging seeds with other schools.
“It’s been amazing to see their enthusiasm,” says Kreigh Hampel, owner of the Community Environmental Institute, who helped establish and supervise the garden project. Known affectionately as “Doctor Rot” because of his early presentations on composting, Hampel has some great stories that illustrate how easily the kids “get it” when it comes to the interconnectedness of life. “One day a boy said to me, very earnestly in front of his mother, ‘My mom killed a composting bug.’ His mother’s face dropped. Then he said, very sweetly, ‘But she didn’t know what she was doing.’”
The students’ passion for their garden follows them home in many ways. “It’s fun because Doctor Rot gives us seeds and we can take them home and plant them,” says Freddy Mora, a third-grader. “Now I help my grandma plant in her garden.”
Kreigh’s Community Environmental Institute is just one example of visionary work being done by a special group of people nationwide who meet at the Odwalla-sponsored Bioneers Conference, to share ideas and practical solutions for restoring the earth. We’ll be working with Kreigh on other projects, helping to plant more seeds of change.
Archive: Published in Odwalla’s quarterly customer newsletter, OdwallaSpeak