Growing Together: How a Grant Transformed Lakeside’s Garden

Growing Together: How a Grant Transformed Lakeside’s Garden

June 19, 2024

By Landon Hall

The Lakeside Green Team harvests seeds to be used by the school's cooking class.

Every Monday at 12:23, a small patch of ground at Lakeside Middle School is swarmed by the 7th and 8th graders of the Green Team. Many of them set to work tending to fruits and vegetables. Others grab a hose or a hoe or a rake. Still others just want to enjoy a quiet space in the middle of a busy campus.

The garden has a little something for everyone, and it’s getting bigger, thanks to a grant from the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. The expansion of the Lakeside Agricultural Lab has included additional raised garden beds, irrigation, composting bins, a greenhouse, and a common area available to students and staff.

“It’s a club where anyone can come anytime,” said Bridget Mack, a culinary arts teacher who oversees the garden with math teacher Adrienne Everett. “It’s not something they have to go to ever week. They can go when they can, or they want to try it for the first time. A lot of them bring their friends to come for the first time, and they end up staying.”

The garden was started years ago by a teacher at the school, and more space has been cultivated since Mack and Everett took it over. A sunflower plant now grows taller than anyone. There are guava, apples, pomegranate, lemons, green onions, parsley, artichoke, parsley, passion fruit, peppers, dill — anything that can be grown in Southern California’s rich soil and abundant

sunshine.

On this day, the last Monday in April, students start filing in through the classroom and out the door to the garden as soon as the bell rings for the tutorial session, which students can use for a variety of purposes. They can get a head start on P.E. or use the time to study. It only lasts 25 minutes. A lot of students would rather be here. Lisa Barker, a 14-year-old 8th grader, says she’s been coming here all two years of school. “It’s really enjoyable, because you learn about different plants and things you don’t learn in school.”

But this is school too! The skill sets of the teachers complement each other: There’s math and science in growing things, which is Everett’s area of expertise, and the food harvested will make its way into Mack’s cooking class. They’ll use the guavas to make juice. Today the big cultivating job is plucking the seeds of the nasturtium plant. They have brilliant orange and yellow leaves, and the seeds are about as big as medium-size blueberries. The kids fill up Mason jars with the seeds, which taste like capers and will be used in class in a salad or with Mac and Cheese.

The compost bin has been an important addition to the garden, educating students about food waste

“Can you water the worms? They’re looking a little dry right now,” Everett asks a student, pointing to the composing bins, which fill up with all sorts of organic matter, including wriggling creatures. The bins were bought with the IPSF grant (watch their grant application video) and are a handy thing to have in a garden.

They, too, are opportunities for instruction.

“One of the things we talk about, in cooking class and in here, is food waste with our compost,” Mack said. “We talk about how much food that gets bought doesn’t get eaten and gets thrown away.”

The garden imparts to children those amazing things: where food comes from, the pleasure of working with your hands. “We want to just get them exposed to stuff like this because it’s so rare nowadays,” Everett said. “People have back yards the size of a shoebox and they’re not growing things.”

Everett added: “And I know our health class is constantly emphasizing the decline in the nutritional value of our foods right now, so we’re talking about processed food vs. whole foods that you can just pick out of the garden. We want to make that visible. Here’s where all your nutrients are. And while it’s easy and convenient to get a snack bar or some kind of processed cereal from the grocery store, it’s so much healthier to just grab an apple off the tree.”

all the leaves. It’s like a perfect calming place for him. We’re getting more and more students who just need a different setting, and this is a perfect space for them.”

Mack discusses bringing in some netting from home to protect some of the fruits from birds. They’re trying to devise ways to stop other intruders: the rats and raccoons.

Lakeside teachers Bridget Mack and Adrienne Everett

As the garden continues to thrive and expand, the teachers envision creating an area with a table and chairs where anyone can come and read, or eat their lunch or grade papers. Or just sit outside and be. Stillness, not running around frantically, has therapeutic benefits just like eating an apple does.

“I have some students who just need some quiet space,” Everett said. “A few students wear headphones because they need to be in their own world. One specific student will often ask, ‘Can I come out here and rake?’ He comes out here when people are playing games or whatever and it’s too much for him, and he’ll just come out and rake