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Community garden yield feeds students at 5 elementary sites
Sequoia School students in the After-school Program of Give Every Child a Chance celebrate the first picks of the winter season from the garden they helped raise. - photo by Photo Contributed

Students at Sierra High School’s five feeder schools enjoyed fresh home-grown vegetables for lunch on Thursday.

The fresh produce was the fruit of the combined months-long labor by Sequoia Elementary students involved in Give Every Child a Chance’s After-School program and volunteers from the Manteca Garden Club. Together, the two groups turned a long-neglected dirt area at Sequoia into a productive community vegetable garden. On Tuesday, the GECAC students and garden club volunteers harvested the first picks of the season. The yield was enough to have the fresh vegetables distributed to the five feeder schools of Sierra High – Nile Garden, Brock Elliott, Sequoia, Woodward, and Veritas schools – as part of Thursday’s lunch menu.

The largest yield coming from the four types of vegetables harvested was the broccoli – 21.5 pounds all in all – followed by 9 lbs of Russian kale, 2.75 lbs of cilantro, and 1 lb of lettuce. The vegetables were transported to Woodward School where Nutrition Department staff cleaned and prepped them for Thursday’s meal at the five satellite campuses.

The money raised from the community garden will go to Give Every Child a Chance which will use it to fund programs, such as one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance, which are not covered by federal grants, said GECAC executive director Carol Davis.

GECAC started the community garden project at Sequoia School at the beginning of 2014. But it was evident early on that they would need help in turning their ambitious plan to reality. Enter the avid and civic-minded members of the Manteca Garden Club.

“We were approached by GECAC to see if we had anyone to help them design the garden. I asked our club and Tom (Canales) and Tom (Powell) raised their hand and quickly became really involved,” garden club president Paula Elias said in an interview in July 2014.

The club pitched in some money to get the community garden going, and some members donated various garden tools and other items. Providing most of the sweat equity were the club’s “two Toms” – Tom Canales and Tom Powell, both recently retired from their jobs in the Bay Area. They dug trenches, removed piles of debris, and installed underground irrigation pipes – a total of about 100 linear feet of PVC.

“The donations helped us purchase items for the garden – dirt, raised planter boxes – everything,” Davis said.

Working diligently with “the two Toms” and the school was Unaiza Furqah of GECAC. “I give her credit for the (community) garden. She worked with the Toms and the school and has done a wonderful job. I’m so impressed with the job she has been able to accomplish with (the garden club’s) help. The garden is her vision and her dream.”

Furqan was the one who wanted to save the original community garden that once thrived on the grounds of Sequoia School, Davis said. “She came to me and asked if I’d be willing to do it. If it weren’t for her dedication and commitment to the project, it would not have happened,” Davis said.

Wednesday’s fresh produce from the community garden raised a total of $58.07 which will be paid to GECAC by Manteca Unified’s Nutrition Services Department.

Nutrition Education Supervisor Sandy Helsel said they expect to “purchase” more vegetables from the community garden. Some of the other varieties that were planted are not yet ready for picking.  This is all a part of the school district’s plan to use “local vendors” and “local produce” for the nutrition program, she said.

The community garden is about a third of an acre located next to Sequoia School. The garden itself is built on a space of about 30 feet by 40 feet, an area that’s about 1,000 square feet.

Future plans for the community garden includes the installation of park benches around the garden so school staff or students can enjoy the garden atmosphere while enjoying their snacks or lunch. It is also being considered as an educational tool for teachers and students, in addition to being a productive vegetable garden. Flowering plants are expected to join the vegetable varieties, along with some fruit trees.