The Nevada Tahoe Conservation District (CD) helped form a school district-wide garden committee that brought together representatives from each of the local elementary schools to promote a cohesive garden program. Previously, each school garden worked separately, and minimal interactions between the programs occurred. Now, the committee is ranking project needs and discussing opportunities that affect the whole district. The committee’s coordination caught attention of the school board, and they created a temporary position under the science coordinator. This position is working with all schools to determine needs for STEAM curriculum and the garden programs. There has also been work done to create a Tahoe-specific garden curriculum that follows California state standards. Currently, it is being used in one of the elementary schools and the school district is looking to expand the use of it throughout the district. Other outcomes of the school garden committee include meeting with the school board to discuss additional support and funding, discussions with FoodCorps regarding two members to work in the elementary schools in the district, and numerous grants to continue improving the garden spaces.
In the beginning of the project, the Bijou Elementary greenhouse was built. This was a hands-on community effort involving an enormous amount of volunteer hours thanks to a garden committee created by the Bijou Elementary Parent-Teacher Association. While building the greenhouse, the whole garden space was given a face lift. Five new and more durable planting beds were installed, drainage was improved, a teaching area was graded, and natural seating was added. A full new underground irrigation system was also added to the entire space, significantly reducing weekly maintenance requirements. This fall, all students in the school got out for at least two lessons in the garden space, and the greenhouse was planted for the first time.
The committee also worked to raise money to erect the fourth outdoor garden space at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School (LTESMS). It raised over $30,000 from numerous sources, including the Parent-Teacher Association of LTESMS, Raley’s Giving, Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant, Lake Tahoe Education Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Lake Tahoe and many more public and private donors. A new garden space was designated in front of the school, and a greenhouse, along with a utility shed was erected this fall. With the installation of this greenhouse, all four of the elementary schools in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District have greenhouses and outdoor garden spaces.
The secondary committee formed with help from this urban agriculture project is working on bringing more local produce to South Lake Tahoe. It is creating ties to local El Dorado County farmers and the Tahoe Food Hub, a local non-profit that currently only works in North Lake Tahoe. A pilot program of four weeks occurred in October and November 2018. This assessed viability and created connections to local restaurants. Six restaurants along with 14 individuals participated in the pilot. Full roll-out of the expansion to South Lake Tahoe is planned for Spring 2019.
The school garden committee will continue to meet and develop goals to further the use of the elementary school gardens and look to expand the garden program into the middle school and high school. These goals include improving outside garden spaces at the schools and continuing the development of lesson plans that can be integrated into the new STEAM curriculum. The committee is also working with the school board to fund a garden position in each school after the temporary position has finished. There are efforts to bring FoodCorps members to the schools in the future who can work with the gardens and expand the curriculum. Due to the formation of the school garden committee and the energy put forward to create growing spaces at all of the elementary schools, many donations from individuals, PTAs and small foundations have been acquired.
The Tahoe Food Hub did a one-month pilot program to test the feasibility of extending their services to South Lake Tahoe, which also works with schools through their Sierra Agroecology Center (SAC). SAC works with local schools to provide training on growing year-round in the area’s cold climate. Bringing the Tahoe Food Hub down to South Lake Tahoe will bring this knowledge base and potential funding source to provide similar opportunities to the south side of the lake.