By Gabriela Estrada, Solano Gardens Program Manager
When people tell you it takes a village to create great things, believe them. They most likely understand that the world is a connected place and that nothing truly great ever gets accomplished in a vacuum. Solano Gardens, for example, was made possible with support from Solano County and the need for a model of community gardens in low-income communities that serve as a source of fresh produce, a hub of information and a place for building relationships.
From this source of funding, Jardin de la Esperanza (Garden of Hope) was developed. This garden at Armijo High School in Fairfield began with the dedication of a couple of teachers, a few wine barrel planters purchased by the principal and a passion for gardening and a desire to take learning beyond the classroom. They shared this with their students and created a garden club.
To announce this club, a banner was created and placed outside the school. This banner caught the eye of Jeff Barton, a longtime Sustainable Solano supporter and host of our Walk The Talk Workshops. Intrigued about this club, he walked into the school and shared information about permaculture, Sustainable Solano and that we were looking for a school to install a permaculture-based garden. Sylvia Herrera, English teacher and garden adviser, jumped at the opportunity, and like the force of nature that she is, began to move the project forward. We were then joined by Michelle Bolden, special education teacher and co-head of the garden club, English teacher Vanessa Willing-Sisi and Principal Sheila Smith.
The next steps involved getting on the same page about the kind of garden we wanted to create. We had a meeting with students who were interested in supporting the garden and the project. To make this garden something that fit the needs of people, we enlisted these students in supporting with the design, the needs and the overall implementation of the project.
Out of this meeting, the Get Fresh Crew was created: Sebastian, Flor, Valeria, Florence and Ana.
After a few meetings where we briefly discussed what we wanted and needed out of the garden, we created a design. This design took elements of permaculture, ideas from different students and from the Get Fresh Crew, and from our lead landscape designer, Kathleeen Huffman.
Then the physical work began! Sylvia, Michelle and Vanessa enlisted their students in the digging, sheet mulching and planting of the guilds. Woodshop teachers and their students also supported the project by building raised beds for the garden, and the art teachers and students began planning for a painted mural.
A week later, we had a garden! A garden that was created for students by students and whose produce will help support Armijo’s Pantry, a food pantry for Armijo families in need. It always amazes me what a few passionate people can do when they put their minds to it and the impact that they can create.
You can be part of this process. Interested in helping to create a new garden? Join us in installing a vegetable garden at Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church in Vallejo on June 22.
Do you know a church, a private residence, a school or an apartment complex that has limited access to fresh produce and would benefit from a community garden? Fill out our Interest Form to tell us about it!
So what impact did the garden create? Check out the student insights here and in the videos below (scroll down to view).
Student Garden Reflections
To me the garden is a way for us as students to get involved in something that matters more than just our regular curriculum. The garden is not only a creative outlet for us as students, but it teaches us to appreciate the natural world around us. The garden represents a new venture into a more involved and natural community. In the future I envision the gardening not only continuing, but growing and thriving.
— Aaron R.
The garden has given my classmates and I the opportunity to get involved and give back to the environment. It also allowed us to gain knowledge and appreciate indigenous culture. It is a great way to get students involved and hopefully continue to nurture the garden for future Armijo students to enjoy. It’s also a great opportunity to inspire students and encourage them to become more involved with their community and show compassion for the environment.
— Mariah A.
The garden was a great opportunity for my class and I to create a beautiful way of giving back to the environment. It was great opportunity to learn about gardening and a welcome change from sitting all day long in a classroom. In the future, I envision the garden continuing to grow and being not just a beautiful sight to see while walking to class and an opportunity to learn about nature.
— Alexia C.
Rosemary, sage, and strawberry. With each new plant we add to our garden, we grow our appreciation of not only gardening, but indigenous culture. This garden has given me a moment of calm in the center of campus. I am inspired by the sweetness of our lemongrass to the sturdy miner’s lettuce, which withstands its tangled stems. Our trampled grass and cold concrete has metamorphosed into a vibrant display of our hard work and optimism— a lesson that I will never forget.
— Royce G.
Creating a garden is a very precise and skillful task that teaches indigenous knowledge. It shows the hard work that the student community has put in to better the society by promoting healthy and diverse fruits and vegetables. I can see future generations continue the tradition of cultivating our garden to learn about indigenous knowledge and the work behind how our food is grown.
— Stephen I.
I believe the garden is a great way to teach others about agriculture and indigenous culture. It also teaches other skills that aren’t (but should) be better promoted in schools such as healthy eating and survival skills. I hope it’ll expand and help unite all of Armijo.
— Florence T.
In the future I hope that the garden expands. I hope that the following generations appreciate it as much as some of us do. I learned by having a garden that it’s a way to bring people to work together as a community and a way to learn values.
— Juliza V.
The garden is a pretty cool concept to me because it symbolizes growth and balance. I think it is a nice opportunity for students to connect with nature and have a chance to be cultivators of a better future that depends on us, the students. I hope in the future the garden thrives and keeps growing as the peaceful mindset of the garden also grows.
— Juan D.
To me, the garden represents growth in our school. We are beginning to bring new opportunities to learn and expand the school’s knowledge. I hope that the garden continues to expand and even more people become involved. Having a garden teaches those working in it patience, care and commitment.
— Brianna V.
Working in the garden taught me about the different types of plants that grow natively in this area. Before I didn’t know what was imported and what was naturally grown here.
— Madelyn G.
My time in the garden has taught me new things about plants and their various uses that I wasn’t aware of. I envision the garden being full of life, with vegetables and fruits that will improve the nutrition in this school and show students some work ethic.
— Alvin A.
Being a part of the creation of the garden has been a great experience thus far. Shoveling, raking, watering the plants or simply doing WHATEVER IT TAKES has been great. Labor turned into competitions to see who could shovel more bark into the barrels. Since it is a part of our TOK curriculum related to indigenous knowledge, our class has been outside working on it for the past two weeks, making for a great time. In the next coming year, I hope for it to still be thriving and I hope for all the plants to be in good condition and well manicured. By having a garden, great responsibility skills are learned as it takes a lot of care to maintain the beautiful garden. All in all, I have really enjoyed my time in the creation of the garden!
— Alessio I.
To me, the garden seems to be one vision of what we at Armijo want to see in our future — growth — and how it portrays future aspects of beauty for our community. My understanding of the garden is that it is a community experience for the school that shows how the Fairfield and Suisun high school population can work together as a team to produce something not for material gain, but to show the indigenous knowledge our of area. Thus, as a constituent of this complex, yet miraculous process, I have been instructed and taken with me the abilities to sustain the environment by increasing the biodiversity of the garden and other important and sustainable processes in making a garden.
— Hezekiah B.
I love how the garden was nothing at first and became a big project that put all students to work and interacting with each other. The best part of building the garden was how all students put a little of something of theirs in the garden like ideas and thoughts.
— Lydia R.
Having a school garden means a lot to me because I was part of its creation from the very first beginning and it has really helped me develop some skills. It also has a metaphorical meaning for many students because it represents our growth and how we take care of ourselves; and I love that part. The best part of the garden was working with all the students and Sustainable Solano members to make things in the garden happen. I really hope the garden can help (in a physical and emotional way) and feed many people, and that future students make a good use of it. I wish all the best for it.
— Valeria G.
Having a school garden to me means good publicity for the school. The best part of the garden journey is being able to go outside.
— Isaiah P.
Having a garden at school means that we could educate the students on the how important nutrition is. The best part of the garden journey is seeing it all come together with the trees and plants. I envision the garden being very well developed. I can see the trees getting bigger and actually producing fruits and vegetables.
— Zaria R.
Having a garden at school serves as an element that stands out. It has been a rarity, since not a lot of schools have a garden and a peaceful outlet of trees and plants that contrasts with the hectic environment of school. The best part so far of traveling through the garden journey has been constructing and arranging the basic outline of the garden. Seeing the construction process has allowed me to see how the garden has changed, from a barren terrain to home of many greens. Even though the garden’s plants and trees haven’t flourished much yet, I hope to see a vibrant and fresh ambiance in the future. Also, I hope that it’s a learning outlet for people to discover new plants.
— Maryflor F.
Having a school garden not only makes the school look nice but the purpose behind it and the effort it takes has a positive impact on the environment. The best part of my garden journey is planting but also seeing the process of the garden. I envision using the garden to harvest fruits and veggies.
— Marcus F.
To me, having a school garden means we have something that the whole school can take care of. The best part of working on the garden was being able to go outside and do tasks we wouldn’t normally do. I envision the garden as an important future hotspot for our school, like a symbol, an emblem for our school.
— Sebastian B.