By Diana Nelson
Kids at Kyrene del Cielo Elementary School in West Chandler are developing healthier eating habits at the same time they’re learning how to grow gardens that bring good food onto their plates.
Although the garden is still in its beginning phase, it is hoped that after the veggies are harvested next fall they can be given to students to eat at home or in the school cafeteria.
Eduarda Schroder organizes the volunteers who are creating the Cielo project. A longtime area resident, Schroder holds a master gardener designation and is a member of the Tempe-based group Friends in Gasca Gardens, which consists of other neighborhood gardeners, both novice and expert.
Located at Bonarden and Warner Road, the 5,000-square-foot Gasca enterprise, with 27 plots, is much bigger than the nearby Cielo upstart, but the school’s plot is a great introductory opportunity for students to learn more about sustainable gardening, says Schroder.
“Both of my daughters attended Cielo and although they are now students at ASU, I like to stay involved with the school. This project is a way for me to contribute my knowledge of gardening and to perform community service,” said Schroder. “The goal…is to involve all students in one way or another, but how that will happen is still undecided,” said Schroder. “For the near future, I will look after the garden during the summer along with any volunteers that want to come along.”
One of the key steps in getting the garden up and running is soil preparation, and that is where another volunteer is playing a key role.
Chandler firefighter and Cielo father Dan Morrow is an enthusiastic volunteer for the school’s garden. His son Charlie is a second-grader and is involved with the garden project. Dan also has a daughter who is a kindergartner there.
Both children actively help dad in his garden at home, which is about a third of an acre and includes many vegetables plus 38 fruit trees.
“One of my best memories as a kid growing up in Tempe was working in the garden with my dad,” said Morrow. “Not only did I want to re-create that experience with my own kids, but I also want to teach them where food comes from.”
His home garden provides ample fruits and vegetables for the family; he also shares with his neighbors.
“As a firefighter, we try to always eat healthy foods at the fire station, and I wanted to pass along those healthy eating habits to my kids,” said Morrow. He says he hopes to have Cielo’s garden beds built by the end of the school year and to plant a crop of flowers and cow peas to build up the nutrients in the soil.
That particular crop will be planted because it fits into the tight 60-day seed-to-harvest window, and works well in a warm climate with scarce water resources. In addition, the crop maximizes the soil’s health because it pulls nitrogen out of the air for use in the roots, and its quick growth prevents soil erosion, explained Morrow.
He is also a master gardener and has a side business known as Arizona Seed Savvy, in which he works with individuals to create home gardens to be able to access their own home-grown produce.
While the Cielo garden revamp plans are still in progress, Schroder outlined steps necessary to complete the project long-term.
“I hope to move the fence to create an outdoor classroom and to work with teachers to involve learning in the garden. We could acquire some seating, such as garden benches, and develop partnerships with supportive community organizations like the Desert Botanical Garden or a Tempe community garden.”
As homegrown veggies gain in popularity, it seems, so does the neighborhood enthusiasm to help create them.