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Sunday, July 22, 2018

School Using Farmland for Education, Health

Established in 1966, Valley View Elementary School in the South Mountain Village community has been planting gardens on its grounds for more than 10 years. However, in the past year, their mere gardens have grown to include a 7.5 acre piece of land that includes citrus orchards and additional space for larger gardening projects.  The land is currently owned by the Salt River Project, but Valley View, in exchange for irrigating the orchard and maintaining the property, is using it as an integral part of their teaching program.


According to the school’s website, Valley View works with Expeditionary Learning Schools to align big ideas such as sustainability, native cultures and world hunger through math, science and language arts.


According to John Wann, principal at Valley View until this June, the school’s trademark is to get to the big ideas about the things that matter to everyone.


Implementing this philosophy, Valley View developed “You Are What You Eat,” a nutrition program for fifth and sixth graders and “Planting Seeds, Growing Communities,” a multi-curriculum program for seventh and eighth graders that incorporates math, science and the humanities.


“One of the things we’re trying to do is promoting healthy eating for our kids and having healthy food options available,” said Brett Smith, the program’s farm-to-school facilitator.


Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, fifth and sixth graders at Valley View will discover the importance of nutrition and making healthy choices as they participate managing the orchard and its gardens. Additionally, seventh and eighth grade students will study the plant genetics and soil chemistry using the property and its plants garden; using math to plot and grid the property; and discovering the importance of building a community in their humanities classes.


The Orchard program is in its infancy, and, as Wann says, “is just cranking up.”  Last year students focused on picking oranges and selling them at a local farmers’ market.  The monies raised were re-invested into the project.


Wann was instrumental in bringing the orchard to the school’s attention. As a previous owner of the property until 2005, Wann was very familiar with what it could offer to the school and its students. The buyers he sold it to in the mid-2000’s in turn sold the property to the Salt River Project soon after.  While SRP intended to use the Orchard’s land as a substation expansion, plans to do so are in the future and the land has been unused.  Wann worked out a license agreement with SRP, and in exchange for maintaining the property, Valley View gets use of the 7.5 acres of land.


An agreement was reached in November 2010 and the students began planting in February.  Wann tilled and students planted tomatoes, onions, green onions, basil, parsley, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, carrots, jalapenos and corn in the 3,500 square foot garden.  In addition to the garden, the orchard’s 250-plus citrus trees bear oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit.


Smith, a former Valley View teacher, has helped engage the students, and contributes by managing their efforts and making the connections between the Orchard and the classroom, particularly in math and science. Originally a math and science teacher, he longed to get outside of the classroom and worked for a number of years with Valley View students in woodworking.  Under his tutelage, students completely rebuilt the school’s library, replacing cabinets and shelving units.


“Smith is the genius in working with the 300+ middle school students in a way that’s meaningful, and then connecting it to math and science,” said Wann. “He’s great at getting kids, on a deep level, to understand how things work.”


While students do the bulk of the work, such as planting, gardening, plotting, and harvesting, several other adults have contributed to the success of the project, including area resident and school improvement specialist, Juan Sierra.  As a volunteer, Sierra has helped outline the concepts and the work behind The Orchard project.


In addition, Ros Tulaenda, a former Americorp volunteer and healing arts instructor, has been essential to irrigating the orchard, a 12-hour job every 2-3 weeks depending on the season.


“Kathleen Bartolomei has been helping the school make connections and broaden the conversation about the project and its potential impact on the community,” added Wann.


To further build a healthy community, the school is partnering with St. Luke’s Health Initiative to create family ambassadors. In August, in advance of fall planting, 20 families — all members, regardless of age, are welcome — will participate in a four-part workshop series about health and nutrition, physical activity, gardening and creating healthy meals. Each family will have access to a gardening plot at the Orchard.  In return, the family members are expected to share what they’ve learned in the workplace, at school and among friends and family to perpetuate a community of health.
“It’s not just us sharing knowledge with the community,” said Smith, “a lot of these people have farmed, either on a large basis or done gardening themselves, some are great cooks. They will also be sharing what they know with us.”


For more information or to get involved with Valley View’s community effort, contact John Wann at   john.wann@rsd.k12.az.us  or 602-509-6042.



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