Spotlight on Petaluma Jr. High School Garden

Since 1998, the Culinary Garden has been an integral part of the Culinary Arts and Independent Living curriculum at Petaluma Junior High School. Students in grades 6-8 participate once or twice a week for an hour; planting, weeding, cultivating, harvesting, and preparing food for use in the classroom kitchens. Parent and community volunteers, as well as campus supervisors, assist the classroom teacher, Charlene Nugent, in supervising the classes during the school day.

This program is unique in the North Bay, having transformed home economics classes into relevant, rigorous, common-core curriculum based on Career-Technical Education Standards, Life Lab Curriculum, and the Edible Schoolyard Curriculum. In the classroom, students learn knife skills and kitchen safety, nutrition, food preparation, composting, water conservation, and sustainability. Every drop of water utilized in dish washing is carried out to the garden for irrigation. This coming summer, we hope to earn a grant to build a grey-water system attached to the classroom laundry.  Plans are also in the works for a rooftop water-catchment system.

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On weekends and summers, the teacher, community members, and interns from the sustainability program at Montgomery High School have assisted in maintenance. Twice a year, the garden workdays attract up to twenty-five volunteers to tackle larger projects ranging from construction of a three-sectioned compost station, to renovating paver pathways, to building stairs carved into the hillside.

In the past five years, a major renovation was undertaken, with the assistance of grants from the Petaluma Education Foundation, Clover, Autodesk, Cowgirl Creamery, the PTSA, and other community groups. Ten raised planting beds were built and linked by level granite pathways allowing wheelchair access to the garden directly from the classroom. A large storage shed was added, as well as a sizable greenhouse, where seeds and plant starts can be housed year-round.

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Our protected site, sheltered from wind and cold on three sides by classroom buildings, and our mild winter this year allowed us to grow many vegetables far beyond the normal growing season. In January, we were still harvesting tomatoes for bruschetta and rhubarb for strawberry-rhubarb crisp. Kale is enjoyed by students year-round.

Community volunteers are always welcome at PJHS. Come and take a tour! Contact Charlene Nugent at the school, at 778-4724, or cnugent@petk12.org.

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