Whittier, CA – For 16 years, the young members of Aeolian Elementary School’s award-winning Garden Club have been learning the difference between good bugs and bad bugs, what vegetables grow the best in hot and cold weather, what soils produce the best yield, even how to propagate California’s state flower, the poppy.
On May 18, the 45-member Garden Club, along with Aeolian second-grade teacher and Certified Master Gardener Juvenal Martinez, had their garden awarded a first place ribbon for excellence at the California 48th District Agricultural Association (DAA) Schools’ Agriculture and Nutrition Fair at the Fairplex in Pomona. But more than awards, the club provides a foundation of education for students.
“The Aeolian Garden Club is a student-run afterschool enrichment activity that promotes agricultural awareness and acquaints students with where food comes from,” Martinez said. “It is important for students to learn that food does not just appear on supermarket shelves, that it is an organic process that they can master for themselves.”
Martinez began the Garden Club in 2001, introducing his students to greenery he planted on a small patch of school ground, with just enough room for five flower beds. The garden has since expanded to 26 beds, accommodating leafy greens, spicy peppers and California wildflowers.
Meeting every Thursday after school, Aeolian students, from second- to sixth-grade, gather to do yard work – watering plants, pulling weeds, cultivating the soil and observing flora develop from seedling to maturity.
Every year Aeolian participates in the DAA Fair, where hundreds of schools across Los Angeles County compete for top honors in numerous categories highlighting agricultural education, submitting art, photography, posters and classroom projects.
As part of the submission process, DAA judges visit school gardens, asking student about various plant species and testing their knowledge of agriculture.
Aeolian has won multiple ribbons at the Fair, and in 2014 won the DAA’s “There’s a School in Every Garden” award. The Garden Club has received numerous commendations from local, state and federal representatives.
Aeolian fifth-grader Gabriela Gutierrez has been in the garden club for three years, and helped design painted gourds for this year’s exhibit.
“I like the Garden Club because I am learning how to garden on my own at home, with help from my family,” Gutierrez said. “I have learned so much in the Club. I can identify worms, ladybugs and butterflies, and about different plants, weeds and soil.”
Martinez has seen interest in the Garden Club climb from a handful of students in its earliest days, to the present day where students must fill out an application and wait to hear if they have been selected to a coveted spot in the group.
“When I hear that a student has gone home and started a garden with their grandmother, it makes me feel good,” Martinez said. “That is all the validation I need.”
Though Martinez is looking towards retirement, he is already taking steps to ensure that the Aeolian Elementary Garden Club legacy continues, and is still looking for ways to incorporate all students who have taken an interest in gardening.
“The Aeolian Garden Club has changed the lives of so many Los Nietos students, who have been learning not just about sustainable agriculture, but also how to work together to make the world a better place,” LNSD Superintendent Jonathan Vasquez said. “These are valuable lessons the students will revisit over and over again in their lives. Congratulations to Mr. Martinez and all of his resourceful students.”
052217_LOSNIETOS_GARDENCLUB1: Aeolian Elementary School’s 45-member Garden Club meets once per week to allow students to experience agriculture.
052217_LOSNIETOS_GARDENCLUB2: Aeolian Elementary School’s garden was awarded a first place ribbon for excellence on May 18 at the California 48th District Agricultural Association (DAA) Schools’ Agriculture and Nutrition Fair at the Fairplex in Pomona.