Earth Day is Everyday: Novato School Garden

WITS Program Manager and Chef Cait Olesky shows off a big apple from the gardens of Lu Sutton K–8 in California.

The Spring 2022 newsletter would not be complete without a tribute to Mother Earth. Earth Day is a time to celebrate and promote environmental education, inspire action, and renew and expand commitments to protect our planet. Despite these efforts and celebrating this annual event for over 50 years now, our beloved planet is on a fast track to disaster making the fight for safeguarding it harder than ever but essential.

However, in WITS schools in California, Mother Earth is thriving and children and adults alike are understanding her bounty. Several of our schools have working gardens that are blossoming and are not only beautiful but are also providing bountiful harvests to nourish and teach our children. 

Our highlight school this spring is Lu Sutton Elementary School in Novato, CA. They have an amazing garden with an enthusiastic garden coordinator, Erin Compton-Schimmel. Gardening has been integrated into the school’s curriculum for all grades. The students typically engage in a garden experience once a week to hone their skills and to learn about particular plants. The teachers then integrate what the kids are learning in the garden as an extension of science class.

The WITS Chefs enjoy learning from the students not only about what they are growing in the garden (currently artichokes, radishes, carrots, beets, lettuces, herbs, plus flowers and fruit trees), but also what they are learning about bugs and insects, composting… you name it! The most rewarding part of the partnership for the WITS team is to be able to tailor the WITS Labs to the harvest of the season. We developed a Salsa Lab with their homegrown tomatoes. In this Lab, students learned about the benefits of tomatoes among other things that are good for the heart. They could not be more thrilled making a salsa using fresh tomatoes from their own garden and dipping it in baked chips as a healthy and delicious snack. 

We expanded on our Greens Lab with the abundant variety of greens in the garden, harvested on the very day by students themselves. We taught the popular WITS Applesauce Lab with the incredibly juicy apples grown right here in the school. Finally, we featured their homegrown cauliflower and beans in a WITS Pickle Lab pilot we developed specifically for Lu Sutton and with plans to expand to our other markets. 

Looking ahead to the remainder of the spring brings a great deal of excitement to students and teachers alike. For example, we will be incorporating spring greens and herbs into a crostini topper. These sessions open up the students’ minds far beyond the bounds of traditional curricula. Students gain so much from making the connections between where their food comes from, how it grows, and how much better it tastes when it is right from the ground and prepared by them. 

You would be surprised to know how easy it is to grow your own vegetables, especially with summer around the corner. There is so much information available about choosing the right plants and soil depending on where you live. For WITS in CA, there is always a growing season, and carrots, radishes, and peas are perfect to grow in the spring. Plus, folks are putting in their tomato starts for summer!

Through our Green for Kids program, we are bringing gardens to schools, teaching kids environmentally sustainable practices and providing garden to cafeteria tastings. Abiding by this year’s theme for Earth Day, we are encouraging them to “Invest in our Planet”. There is a desperate need to shift our attitudes toward more sustainable practices. We believe that by instilling these small but impactful practices in children from such a young age we are not only teaching them how beautiful this planet is but how it needs to be respected and protected. We are proud to state that our Green for Kids program provides them with interactive lessons on food waste, sustainability, and gardening to empower students and schools to protect our planet for generations to come!