Even at first glance, the gardening plot off to the side of the Technology building seems pretty top-notch. A large yet easy-to-miss greenhouse sits quietly to one side, and past the vine-clothed wooden fence are students working in plots of what promise to be produce later this year.
Recently, however, the students of the Gardening Club have been receiving some assistance from the district in the form of Debbie Harding, a veteran employee of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Food and Nutrition Services Department.
“Debbie oversees the garden program for the entire district,” Dona Richwine, a Nutrition Specialist in the department, said. “She is a resource to teachers who want to have a classroom garden, and helps them and others with getting seeds and supplies for their gardens.”
Harding, who has now been working in the Samo plot for six years and in the district for 20 years, is the school garden outreach for the department’s “Farmer’s Market Salad Bar Program,” and had worked in previous years with Project ECHO and the Vikes’ Inn to grow lettuce in Samo’s plot. The fresh produce was then used to make salads for Samo’s salad bar.
Gardening Club, formed in 2008, is a relatively new entity on campus. When the club was founded, it’s members were unaware that the garden plot was intended for these purposes. When Harding contacted them about her involvement with the plot, they were uncertain how to respond.
“I don’t know who she is. I’ve never met her,” sophomore and Gardening Club president Cami Speyer said of Harding about ten minutes before the nutrition specialist came to work with the club for the first time.
“All I know is that she says she’s in charge of the garden, and I thought we were in charge of the garden.”
After Harding gave her spiel about growing lettuce for the Vikes’ Inn, the club members softened a little, and the next week they were actively helping Harding to plant and care for the lettuce during the club hours.
“The Gardening Club can choose the plants they wish to grow, but the primary focus of the garden needs to be vegetables,” Richwine said. “As for Project Echo, they will be growing lettuce again and we are hoping that we will have some other vegetables for them to add to the salads.”
Richwine hopes that, in the near future, Project Echo will cooperate with Gardening Club in efforts to make the salads.