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Earth Day and Arbor Day celebrations, not just one day affairs at Wasuma

Wasuma Eighth graders Jordan McCully, left, and Cleo Norlander trim dead runners from strawberry plants while working in the school garden on Arbor Day.
Wasuma Eighth graders Jordan McCully, left, and Cleo Norlander trim dead runners from strawberry plants while working in the school garden on Arbor Day. Special to Sierra Star

Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning busied hands of all sizes last Friday as Wasuma Elementary School kindergarten-eighth grade students celebrated Arbor Day in their school garden. They were also celebrating Earth Day which is not just a one day observance for them.

“Wasuma Elementary School has an active garden sponsored by the Parent Teacher Association for the past three years,” said Wasuma teacher and grant writer Leslie Peterson. “The garden program has become part of the PTA’s budget.”

Because of grants given by the Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary Club to Wasuma and North Fork Elementary, the schools are expanding student learning opportunities centered around their gardens.

The grant, a little more than $4,000, allowed Wasuma to purchase a greenhouse, tables, shelving, additional tools and to upgrade the irrigation system.

“The garden teaches them to work together,” said Rotary member Melissa Buller. “They learn how to farm, how to grow things.” She also believes the garden is a tool to teach students about healthy eating habits and good nutrition.

“They don’t know they’re in the classroom,” said Rotary member Tim Madden as students trimmed dead runners from strawberry plants and tied wandering berry canes to fencing.

Seventh graders Emma McGinnis helped build a small dome framework to support sugar snap peas and Hannah Harris planted broccoli.

The school has formed partnerships with area businesses and service clubs who support the students’ gardening efforts. The Leo Club from Yosemite High School worked with Wasuma students as they added their own painted designs to paving stones which Oakhurst Rocks provided at a discount.

True Value Home Center, Wasuma’s ASB and the PTA also donated funds for the project and Blaze Built Construction donated all of the electrical work needed. South Gate Brewing Company donated soil and parents pitched in with other donations including tools, plants and seeds.

Luke Seals and Gabe Sanchez, both sixth graders, helped with a recycling project using a variety of plastic lids to form a giant “GROW” sign.

Why pull the weeds? “To help out the garden because weeds will kill all the plants,” said fourth grader, Koa Onuma. “If we don’t get the weeds, the garden will become a graveyard of dead plants.”

Volunteer and staff members of the UC Master Gardener Program of Mariposa County offered advice, help and hope to have an ongoing relationship with the school.

Mariposa County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Coordinator Nairja Marchand suggested that one student move his mulch cart closer to the plant. “You won’t have to work as hard,” she said and then she explained that the mulch should not be placed right next to the plant as it would cause it to rot.

Parents who own landscaping companies are a resource for advice and volunteer help, Peterson said. “Connie Collins, a special education teacher and a relative of the family that owns the Kern Family Farm in North Fork, has been and will continue to be a great resource.”

Mountain area residents know the The Kern Family Farm as a source of locally grown produce. The Kern Family Farm has been “running the North Fork School Garden since 1999,” according to their webpage. “Back then it was just a few raised beds, some herbs and three fruit trees. Now the garden is a little over an acre with several raised beds, three fields for row crops, a greenhouse, berry trellises, a grape arbor, and an orchard with 25 trees. Our little garden has grown into a farm.”

The gardens are an open air classroom where students learn with hands on activities.

“Gardens provide a place to study weather, insects, soil and environmental matters,” Peterson explained. “The garden engages students by providing a dynamic environment in which to observe, discover, experiment, nurture and learn. It is a living laboratory in which students gain an understanding of ecosystems, an appreciation for food origins and nutrition, and knowledge of plant and animal life cycles. Lastly, they learn practical horticulture skills that last a lifetime.”