Windsor Middle School garden educates as well as feeds
The fenced garden is a riot of waning plants this late in the summer vegetable season on the far side of Windsor Middle School off Foothill Drive. The raised beds contain a wide variety of peppers and tomatoes, as well as ornamental and edible flowers, herbs and sunflowers. In addition, strawberries, cucumbers, corn, green bean and pumpkins, along with more winter squash, potatoes and onions sprawl across the boxes, some spent with the season, others still growing strong.
What once was considered unusual, a student garden at school, is now commonplace and considered an active way for students to explore the science behind growing plants and get hands-on experience with the farm-to-table movement, while eating farm fresh produce along the way.
But it takes money and energy to create a garden at a school. Enter Amie Lands, a Windsor Middle School teacher with more than a decade of restaurant experience.
Lands was recovering from cancer treatment when Marie Ganister, the director of the award-winning Vineyard Academy at Windsor High School, was invited to submit a grant application to extend the program to middle school, including fifth through eighth grades. The invitation came from California Partnership Academies, a career and technical education program.
They were awarded the grant, and Vineyard Academy birthed Vineyard Academy Harvest at Windsor Middle School. The joint programs explore careers in hospitality, tourism and recreation. In addition, fifth grade students at Brooks Elementary School receive education in career exploration under the same grant.
Amie Lands worked in the restaurant business while getting her teaching credential, including the additional continuing education credential specializing in hospitality, tourism and recreation, one of the programs offered through California’s state CTE credentialing program.
Lands credits working at both Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s restaurants with local entrepreneur and Emmy-award winning Food Network star Guy Fieri for giving her much of her teaching experience. Working at the restaurants paid off her school debt and offered her valuable experience with people. She also credits Fieri with introducing her to her husband, who also was in the restaurant business.
Working with Lands, who has 13 years of experience teaching fourth through eighth grades, are two other Windsor Middle School teachers. Laura LoCicero, 60, is also the garden coordinator and Scott Schoepp, also 60, teaches art and culinary classes to sixth graders and engineering to seventh and eighth graders.
Lands, 39, was a student of both teachers in 1993 and 1994. She credits them with inspiring her to follow her career path. She’s gone from restaurants to teaching now, but she believes that all youth should spend time working in hospitality, as it provides a solid work foundation and can offer a jumping off place for those with an entrepreneurial spirits.
“Amie is the perfect person in a perfect spot. It was my dream to grow the program as it has and Amie is the perfect person to bring it to fruition,” said Ganister.
Last winter, Lands wrote more grant applications during her recovery and now they’ve received grants from the Raley’s and the Sonoma County Office of Education, as well as the grant. In addition, she and LoCicero researched and developed the culinary program and planned the garden during that time.