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Waiting for a garden to grow at Cali Calmecac

Friday, August 15th, 2014 | Posted by
Sue McQuiddy, in purple, runs the school garden at Cali Calmecac. Here she works with, from left, Karina Carrillo, 17, Kaia Alvarez, 16, and Jake Dunn, 17,  to pull weeds and vegetables gone to seed at the garden in preparation for school to begin. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Sue McQuiddy, in purple, runs the school garden at Cali Calmecac. Here she works with, from left, Karina Carrillo, 17, Kaia Alvarez, 16, and Jake Dunn, 17, to pull weeds and vegetables gone to seed at the garden in preparation for school to begin. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

By JAMES LANARAS / Windsor Correspondent

The garden and nutrition program at K-8 Cali Calmecac Language Academy is facing two droughts this school year, rain and funding.

The statewide water shortage has already delayed the bilingual school’s spring plans to build a school-community garden, and a lack of state funding has put a crimp in the existing garden and nutritional education program, which has been in place for 12 years.

The proposed school-community garden would be the first of its kind in the Windsor Unified School District, but the land is still waiting to be tilled on the north side of Cali Calmecac, the Aztec words for community leadership and partnership.

“We hope to get it going in the fall. It will be a winter garden,” said Sue McQuiddy, for the past seven years the school’s garden and nutritional education coordinator. Schools are ideal sites for this kind of partnership, she said, because the land is available and people already go there.

The so-called “keyhole” garden, because of its circular design, would provide land for families without garden space at home. “We were going to use raised boxes, but now the land will be dug up for planting,” McQuiddy said. The Windsor Garden Club and the Windsor Wellness Partnership, a chapter of Sonoma County Health Action, are involved in its development, and the garden club contributed $6,000 toward an eventual water source.

For the past 12 years, Cali Calmecac students have planted, harvested and prepared seasonal foods in three raised-bed gardens outside the K-5 classrooms. In the process they have experienced plant life cycles firsthand and learned about the benefits provided by insects.

In the spring, for example, they harvested carrots and the purple cauliflower they used to make corn- and dairy-free cheesy popcorn. They also prepared fruit and vegetable smoothies and this month will package yellow broccoli flower seeds.

Parents and high school students tend the vegetable gardens during the summer, caring for the pumpkins, squash, cilantro, tomatoes, Asian long beans, peppers and eggplant planted in boxes near the kindergarten classroom. Amaranth, a grain that was the staple food of the Aztecs, grows in boxes near the third-grade classroom.

The school once received $30,000-$40,000 in state and county funding. Two years ago, it lost half its funding from the state’s Network for a Healthy California when that agency became the Nutritional Education and Obesity Prevention branch of the California Department of Public Health. Finding other sources has been challenging.

Seeds of Change, the national organization that makes organic seeds available to farmers and gardeners, came through with a $10,000 grant last year that was paired with almost $10,000 from the Parent Teacher Association.

“We were able to preserve 60 percent of our program last year,” McQuiddy said. “The PTA stepped up again this year (with $15,000). They’re our only funding source.
“There’s a lot of competition for funding staff positions in garden and nutritional education, and it takes a lot of effort to apply for grants,” she said. “We’re looking for a more sustainable, long-term funding source. I’m hopeful in the future we’ll find one.”

A fifth garden in progress at Cali Calmecac the Scholar’s Garden near the school library, intended to be a place to read and a memorial to students’ family members who have died.

The project began after Windsor ophthalmologist Dr. Leo Becnel died Sept. 17, 2010, in a tractor accident and his family directed donations to Cali Calmecac. The Windsor Rotary Club contributed $22,000 two years ago, and the Windsor School district provided another $5,000, McQuiddy said.

The site, once overgrown with bushes, is still under construction. It will contain native and drought-resistant plants, two rows of benches and a memorial plaque. A 2-ton, 5-foot rectangular stone has already been set in the ground and will some day be topped by a metal globe sculpture. Grapes will grow on the trellises built by parents and Rotary Club volunteers.

“It will take the fall to finish it,” McQuiddy said.

The school on Starr Lane attracts 1,000 students, half of them Latino, McQuiddy said. “This area of town is a pocket of lower-income families. I reach 700 students. I love having a positive impact on their health. Healthy eating habits start in kindergarten.”

  • Sue McQuiddy

    New garden plot will break ground with help from Global Student Embassy this month!
    Correction: Scholars Garden total budget $22,000. $10,000 Windsor Rotary Grant, remaining from WUSD & Cali Memorial Garden fund….

  • Ruth Person

    Cali Calmecac is Aztec for community leadership and partnership. What is the word for ask the Aztec for the money?

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James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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