Chris Tellez carefully tore leaves off the green and purple lettuce growing behind Bellevue Elementary School.
“I like the purple better,” Tellez, 9, exclaimed while chomping on the leafy vegetables. “It’s sweeter.”
Lettuce was the first crop to come in since the school installed the garden about a month ago. Basil and strawberries were emerging.
“It’s brand new. Parents haven’t even seen it,” third-grade teacher Carrie Boyce said about the garden just southwest of Santa Rosa, roughly the size of a football field.
Boyce, who has been at the school for 18 years, received a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant to start the K-6 school’s garden. It comes at a time when Bellevue and other schools nationwide search for ways to curb child obesity and promote healthy eating habits.
“I want our students to know where our food comes from and how to eat healthy,” Boyce said.
More than 90 percent of the 415 students come from Latino and low income families, said Nina Craig, Bellevue’s principal. Obesity rates tend to be higher among those populations.
The grant paid for the irrigation system, seeds, soil and six picnic tables and umbrellas. It also covered the cost of five trees that the school hopes will bear apples, oranges, peaches, pears and plums for years to come.
Christened the Garden of Glory, it’s the first garden to be dedicated to fruits and vegetables, Boyce said. The school previously had a small flower garden near the playground, but officials removed it two years ago because it obstructed the view of the playground, raising safety concerns.
The school used wood from the old beds to build new ones for the new garden on the northwest corner of the campus, just past the basketball and tetherball courts.
On Friday, about 70 third-graders happily tended the beds, watering the vegetables and planting marigold seeds.
“It feels pretty good,” Jencene Flores-Garcia, 8, said about growing vegetables. “It’s like you’re getting paid. You’re going to get some vegetables (in the end).”
The students also pulled weeds and taste-tested two varieties of lettuce.
“People should plant them,” said Joseph McKenzie, 8. “They can give them to kids so they can eat healthy.”
A third-grader in Boyce’s class, McKenzie said he’s planted cucumbers, lettuce, strawberries, squash and tomatoes at home. He encouraged others to do the same. He said that way “everyone can stay healthy rather than eat chips.”
Boyce said some of her students live in apartment buildings and don’t have the space to garden at home. That’s why she wants to introduce children to gardening and new vegetables at school.
Craig said they hope to use the vegetables in future school lunches, which will teach the children further about social responsibility. She said they’re “part of a bigger picture.”
You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @eloisanews.