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By Heidi Anderson
It's September, so the kids at James Lick in their trademark white shirts and black pants have trooped back for another year of reading, writing, algebra, dance class, art, and--beginning this year--gardening.
Thanks to the efforts of several community members--including the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, James Lick staff and parents, and "team members" from the soon-to-be-opened Whole Foods Market on 24th Street--a series of raised-bed gardens will be installed at the school this fall.
Principal Bita Nazarian says she is thrilled about the garden plots, which will be tended by the student farmers. "I'm really excited. This will be a perfect new project for our students. They'll get science and health lessons, and see their efforts turn into food they can eat."
Peter Gabel, who was instrumental in establishing the Saturday Farmers' Market (in the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot on 24th Street) and whose son is now in eighth grade at James Lick, is one of the organizers of the school garden project. He says he's always wanted to expand the Farmers' Market idea beyond the lot.
"It's only natural to extend the idea of gathering to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables to the neighborhood's public school," says Gabel, who lives on Elizabeth Street.
He hopes that James Lick's garden produce may one day be on sale in a stall at the market and that neighbors can then buy their salad makings from students they know. The garden could be a great way for the middle-school kids to connect with the surrounding Noe Valley community, he says.
Leslie Crawford, a 24th Street resident who worked alongside Gabel to create the Farmers' Market, agrees.
"When I was 11 years old, I was part of a group of kids at a community center who got a 10-by-10-foot plot of land and were taught to garden. It changed my life," says Crawford. She grew a lot of zucchini that year, and has never forgotten the joy of the experience.
Crawford approached James Lick a few years ago with the garden idea, but it didn't take shape.
"It didn't seem like the right time, but we started talking about it last year, and everything's coming together."
Crawford and Gabel have put together an impressive list of community partners, each of whom will have a hand in the garden: the California Culinary Academy, the Noe Valley Farmers Market, Rebuilding Together SF, the school district's Green Schoolyard Alliance, the Whole Foods Noe Valley store team, and, of course, James Lick staff, students, and families.
Rebuilding Together is already at work creating the wooden raised beds (eight of them, two feet high and 8-by-10 in size) that are set to be installed in mid-September on the upper yard near the gym entrance.
In a couple of weeks, a farmer from Hidden Star Orchards, a longtime Farmers' Market presence, will be bringing apples and an apple peeler to teach the seventh-graders in Mr. Longnecker's science class how to peel them.
"I'm hoping they'll get excited about gardening," says Crawford.
Soon, Longnecker's class will be planting and maintaining a few winter-friendly crops, such as lettuce, kale, broccoli, or carrots, and maybe even some flowers. And then the kids will watch them grow.
Crawford and Gabel have secured some funds already, have promises from various partners for support in the future, and will of course do more fundraising to keep the project going. But what the garden needs is a person to tend it over time.
"We really need someone who is passionate about gardening and the Noe community to come in a few hours a week to make sure it's cared for, and help Mr. Longnecker out a bit," says Crawford.
If you'd like to get involved, call the school at 695-5675 and ask for Principal Nazarian or Marilyn Koral.
James Lick Middle School
Bita Nazarian, Principal
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street
Alvarado Elementary School
Robert Broecker, Principal
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado
Fairmount Elementary School
Mary Lou Cranna, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall