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From Garden to Table—Altimira Horticulture Program

The middle school will take its gardening model to elementary students to teach youngsters math and science.

Adults aren't the only foodies in the North Bay wine country.

Every campus in Sonoma Valley Unified School District has its own vegetable garden, and students are growing the same kind of gourmet produce that graces the plates at local fine restaurants.

Chef John McReynolds from local Stone Edge Farm has produced butternut squash salad and vegetable soup for students on campus at Altimira Middle School, using a portable stove and bringing his sous chef with him. Stone Edge has been a "significant" financial contributor to the school's horticulture program, teacher "Dutch" Van Herwynen told Patch on Tuesday. Local nurseries and Petaluma Seed Bank provide seeds.

Altimira is the "hub" horticulture teaching school for the district. Van Herwynen and his students will begin taking the model to elementary schools in the district this week, to teach younger students math and science using plants. It's all part of a vision of creating a career path from local schools to junior college and into the workforce, Van Herwynen said.

Altimira's horticulture class is an elective. Noely Cazares, Jennifer Vega and Daniel Chavez are among the students taking it. Noely said she enjoys picking lettuce for the school's salad bar. Jennifer likes planting, and Daniel said he enjoys building the planter beds.

From spring to fall each year, students raise enough flowers and vegetables to sell $5 bouquets of roses, sunflowers and other blooms, as well as $5 baskets filled with peppers, carrots, broccoli, radishes, cabbage and chard. About 20 teachers, administrators and parents belong to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, in which they buy the produce. Regular flower customers include the school district office staff.

Van Herwynen said the amount of produce and flowers for $5 is ridiculously abundant.

"We need more capacity because we're so generous," he said.

Kimberly Weber, garden coordinator, said she and Van Herwynen are constantly thinking of new ideas. They have a herb garden under way for spring baskets. They're also working on an "orchid rescue" venture, in which people can bring their outbloomed orchids to the school and students will nurture the plants back to blooming again and sell them. Weber also hopes for espaliers of fruit trees.

On Tuesday, frost cancelled a visit by the first class of the day to the garden. Instead, students used Plangarden software to design growing beds. They also wrote out a year's worth of monthly planting guides using Sunset Western Garden Book and a list from I Grow Sonoma, part of the county's Health Action network.

The afternoon class shovelled weeds from growing beds and separated a mother plant into smaller sections that were transplanted into pots. These went into one of the passive solar greenhouses.

Weber and Van Herwynen are in the process of removing all the soil from the planter boxes to put chicken wire under them.

"I have a whole new respect for gophers," Van Herwynen chuckled.

The school uses no pesticides, so everything is organic, Weber said, though they are not certified organic.

She sometimes organizes meals at the school to show students how to use the produce.

"Some kids didn't know about making pesto from basil," she said. "So we made pesto in class and brought it out in the garden. The Basque Boulangerie provided the bread, B. R Cohn gave us olive oil and Sonoma Cheese Factory contributed the dried cheese. The community has been great."

To learn more about getting flowers or produce in the spring, contact the school at 707-935-6020.

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