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In hills above Occidental, teachers discover how to make a garden into a classroom

  • Sonoma and Marin County and San Francisco teachers learn gardening skills, such as ergonomically correct ways to dig, at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Tuesday July 17 participating in a five-day program training teachers in gardening skills they'll take back and teach their students. California is spending $15 million to encourage more gardens in schools. (press democrat/ mark aronoff)

Students are supposed to learn the rules of grammar and long division. But Kathy Phipps' students also learn the three-bite rule.

When Phipps' kindergartners eat greens and other vegetables grown in the campus garden at Meadow View School in Santa Rosa, they are supposed to take three bites. Phipps tells the children it takes that long before you truly know whether or not you like something you have never before tasted.

Phipps has joined in a new $15 million effort to get more California public school children to learn by gardening. The money allowed Phipps and 20 other teachers to take a five-day training program this week in the hills above Occidental.

The training deals with practical advice for creating a garden, as well as how to use it to help educate students in such subjects as science, nutrition, math and language arts.

"It's hands-on learning," Phipps said. "You can teach them so many different concepts out there."

This year the state already has agreed to provide nearly $11 million for school gardens, plus equipment, plants and training. A new School Garden Advisory Group will recommend to state schools chief Jack O'Connell how to spend another $4 million provided in legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles.

Half the state's eligible school districts, charter schools and county offices of education have applied for funds.

A typical elementary school receives $2,500. Schools with more than 1,000 students receive $5,000.

Those involved hope that students who tend a garden will taste its fruits and vegetables and consider the importance of a balanced diet.

"It's just a healthy way for students to learn," said Deborah Beall, a coordinator of the garden program for the state Department of Education.

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