VENTURA COUNTY STAR
By Anne Kallas
As he watched dozens of volunteers digging in the dirt at Oxnard's Tierra Vista School, Principal Javier Bolivar wore a huge smile of satisfaction.
"This is good. There are the teachers who have done so much and took this on their shoulders. This is a beautiful job. What they're doing is so professional and so nice for our school," Bolivar said.
Members of three nonprofits descended on the school's south Oxnard campus Friday afternoon to plant an 18-tree fruit orchard while volunteers built planting boxes for students to grow vegetables for their school lunches.
One of the small band of organizers, bilingual second-grade teacher Nanette Melero said the convergence of volunteers and staff from Ojai-based Food for Thought, the Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta and Ukiah nonprofit Common Vision was the culmination of almost a year's effort.
Melero said she and other teachers from the school in the Ocean View Elementary School District noticed that children who get outside tend to learn more as they observe the natural world. They solve real-life math problems such as how to determine an area needed for a specified amount of growing space and write creative pieces based on the inspiration of the gardens.
The school's first outside program involved a $4,000 state Department of Fish and Wildlife grant in 2011 to create a natural-style habitat.
"We realized part of the plan included an edible garden," said Melero, who also oversees fourth- and fifth-graders in the gifted and talented education program. "So many families here are tied to agriculture, but the kids and also many adults don't know the entire process."
The educator said being outside also involves the Common Core State Standards school districts across the state are adopting.
"It gives the children an outdoor laboratory," Melero said.
In addition to helping build the school food gardens, Captain Planet, a nonprofit that supports environmental projects for children, also provides lessons that can be incorporated into the curriculum.
Ojai resident David White, who has worked with Food for Thought and Captain Planet, was busy building frames for garden plots.
White said he was delighted Food for Thought, which has been working for more than 10 years to bring lessons on healthy eating to children in the Ojai area, is spreading through Ventura County.
"We are really pleased to share Food for Thought. We've learned a lot over the years, and now we hope that in partnership with Captain Planet that we can bring the program to the Rio School District, Ventura Unified School District and maybe Carpinteria," White said.
As part of the Friday afternoon planting, about 100 children from the Boys & Girls Club after-school program that meets daily at Tierra Vista were able to join the Common Vision volunteers, painting signs to mark the various trees, which included peach, nectarine, avocado, guava, apple, plum, apricot, persimmon, pomegranate and fig.
As children crowded around April Cummins, a Common Vision volunteer from Portland, Ore., they discussed the guava tree they were planting. The nonprofit promotes and helps plant school orchards.
First-grader Karma Valdez Ortiz, 7, expressed concern the sapling might be knocked over by rambunctious play in the adjacent schoolyard.
"Someone might break it or step on the roots," the girl said.
Cummins replied: "That's why you guys have to tell your friends to be careful. So these trees can grow."
Common Vision will send a group once a year to check on the orchard to make sure it's thriving, said Leo Buc, director of the group.
"We work with 220 schools in California. And we're always a phone call away for advice," Buc said.