A small plot of land between classroom buildings at Parkway Heights Middle School looks a lot different than it did a few months ago, and next week, students will start to make even more changes. It's the school's first food-producing garden.
In recent years, Parkway has grown small flower gardens on school property, but administrators aim for the new plot to be more permanent -- and edible. Zuchinnis, cilantro, and tomatoes are currently ripe, and a two-foot tall fledgling lemon tree is just beginning to spread its roots, among other plants.
"Our goals for the garden are to maintain a flower and vegtable garden, start a compost, and possibly extend the garden to a larger area," said Parkway Heights math teacher and Ecology Club advisor, Beth Butchart. "Eventually, it would be great if we could use the garden in conjunction with science or language arts lessons."
Several volunteers from South City came together over the summer to get the garden up and going. Rick and Bill Benavides, South San Francisco residents and Parkway alumni who now work in construction were leaders in the project. Seven Parkway Heights students also met each week to work on the plot for three and a half weeks.
First, the area had to be weeded to get rid of the massive overgrowth, then the group put together planter boxes with scrap wood from the solar panels that happened to be going up on school property this summer, prepared the soil, and planted seeds.
The South San Francisco Unified School District helped clear the weeds at the beginning of the project, and also provided mulch and some plants.
Parkway's Ecology Club will continue to care for the garden throughout this school year. Students will pair up and be assigned their own large planter box.
In addition to learning where food comes from and how to grow it, students in the club learn about eco-friendly living practices.
Interim assistant principal Jonathan Covacha said that part of the aim is to teach kids "that if you can do it here at school, you can do it at home. In the long term, it doesn't have to just be a school thing."
Covacha also hopes to create two large murals on the walls that surround the outdoor garden. One, he said might reflect Parkway Heights Middle and the other could represent the larger South City community.
Along with the main garden plot, an open space attached to the teachers' lounge is now filled with plants that a school janitor, Jorge Silva planted this summer. Next to several different types of peppers, as well as tomatoes, is a grill for cooking the vegetables.
"[Silva] is sort of our green-thumb resident here," Covacha said. Silva will also help maintain the main garden this year.
Ecology Club this year will consist of 20 kids, who will take turns gardening around lunch time. Covacha said that the club often has about twice that number of students, but garden work can only be offered to 20 -- at least until the plot is expanded in years to come.
The summer gardening program was part of the larger Parkway Heights Summer Youth Program that offers computer, cooking, sports, and other activities.
The school will also be working with Second Harvest Food Bank this year to teach students about the importance of eating fresh and healthy foods.