Palm Crest Elementary School plants for Earth Day

Owen Grey, 10, foreground, and William Boyd, 7, smooth the soil that fills one of three newly built garden planter boxes at Palm Crest Elementary School. The planters were installed Saturday as part of a school beautification project to mark Earth Day. (Photo by Sara Cardine / April 23, 2013)

How can one person help save a planet, and what would that process look like? Students at Palm Crest Elementary School took one step closer to finding their own answers Saturday when they worked with parents and teachers to construct an on-campus garden as part of an Earth Day campus beautification project.

The hope is to create something that allows students to reconnect with the planet, take pride and ownership in their school and to learn lessons through a unique hands-on experience, according to Shelby Grey, first vice president of programs for the Palm Crest PTA and one of the project organizers.

"The focus is really on having the kids be able to plant it and learn about it," Grey said. "It's helpful for kids to see the whole, entire process of that, from conceptualization to harvesting."

Unofficially, the garden has also been a lesson in community collaboration. Interested parents and teachers discussed the project for awhile before launching the effort last spring, according to Grey. They conducted a teacher survey to see how it might best be used, and the PTA budgeted $500 for the project. That amount was matched in a donation from Sprouts Farmers Market, and the LA-based company MiniFarmBox donated half the money needed to pay for three 4-foot-by-8-foot cedar raised beds to house the plants.

Robin Rodriguez, chair of the garden committee, and parent/landscape designer Halle Yuhan planned the layout and secured materials at cost, while the PTA worked to make the garden's construction happen on beautification day, Grey said. The clean-up-oriented event typically takes place around Earth Day, recognized internationally on April 22 as a day to honor the tenets of environmental stewardship.

Doing their part, Palm Crest students and adult volunteers worked all Saturday, preparing the land and the boxes for the garden. First-grader William Boyd, a Cub Scout with an interest in gardening, came with his father to lend a hand.

"My dad was cleaning the weeds on the field, and he was cutting the bushes," said William, who also helped with weeding. "We left because I started to get a little tired."

Fourth-grader Owen Grey, son of Shelby Grey, got his hands dirty bringing out the planter boxes and helping fill them up with soil. When that was done, volunteers lay composted gravel to form a walkway between each box.

Having the students help build the garden was more than an Earth Day school beautification project, said Palm Crest Principal Karen Hurley. It was another way to get kids even more interested in learning.

"This is an opportunity to learn about healthy eating, about healthy choices and about hard work, having that work ethic — that's the big thing," she said.

Hurley grew up in Canada, where her father insisted on growing and raising the family's food, and appreciated the lessons she learned. Now she'd like to give her students a chance to experience some of those lessons for themselves.

"I think about it like, what would I want for my own children?" Hurley said.

A lot of work remains before the plants are installed. Right now, the PTA is working with teachers to see how the garden's plants could best be used to accompany class lessons, and wants to make sure maintenance plans are in place for summer months. Still, she was optimistic something might be planted this school year.

As for Owen Grey, the 10-year-old wasn't too specific about what he'd want to see planted in the garden, saying he wouldn't mind flowers or something.

"How about vegetables?" his mom encouraged.

He shrugged for a second before conceding, "Carrots."

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SARA CARDINE may be reached by email at s_cardine09@yahoo.com.