4 schools seek new garden site

Four Santa Rosa schools are scrambling to find land to continue their farm and garden programs after losing a long-term lease negotiated through a nonprofit group.

Students from Montgomery and Cardinal Newman high schools, as well as Village Charter School and Roseland Collegiate Prep, have in some cases spent years planting and harvesting crops on about two acres of land on Angela Drive near the former Ursuline High School in Santa Rosa.

The deal, coordinated through the nonprofit Cultivating Impact program, gave students access to a certified organic farm while allowing some students to adopt a corner of the property to tend as they saw fit.

"This place was so perfect, these schools being able to walk to us," said Erin Shea, operator of Cultivating Impact, who hosted a lineup of regular classes and field trips from still more schools.

"We are still looking, but we are not really sure what is going to happen," she said.

Since learning in December that her $575 monthly lease would not be renewed, Shea has removed her certified organic crops and notified teachers from the four associated schools she is looking for a new location.

The landowner plans to grow winegrapes on the property, Shea said.

"It definitely has been a very valuable program for everybody," said John Contreras, a coordinator of Cardinal Newman's service learning program. "It opens their minds up to possibility, getting them out from behind these desks in the classroom. It allows them to breathe, literally, and allows them to see there are other ways of learning."

The farm has been the inspiration for many senior service projects at both Cardinal Newman and the former Ursuline High School, he said.

Cardinal Newman had over the years used a $39,000 grant to improve the property by installing solar panels, investing in beekeeping facilities and rebuilding chicken coops.

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