Take Advantage of School Garden Networking Opportunities

This past week offered a whirlwind of activity in the various community groups to which I belong, namely the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County School Garden Task Force  and the Napa Chapter of the Farmers Guild. Here are a few highlights, along with a gentle nudge to get involved yourself.

The School Garden Task Force was launched in 2013 to develop more intentional support system for teachers, parents, or community members who support school gardens. This small, but dedicated group Master Gardener volunteers has worked closely with several schools in NVUSD over the years. On Thursday, January 26th, the School Garden Task Force (SGTF) hosted its first very first networking meeting for school garden educators. Over 20 people gathered to discuss needs and challenges in school gardens and share some successes, too!

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Educators and Master Gardeners brainstormed the Top Ten challenges of school gardens at a networking meeting on January 26th.

Irrigation–or rather lack thereof–was on the top of the list of challenges school gardens face. In schools not fortunate enough to have a reliable budget for infrastructure and maintenance, irrigation can make or break a school garden. In the spring of 2014, the SGTF partnered with The Huff Brothers (local irrigation specialists) to bring a drip system to El Centro School. A key feature of this small collaborative group, which consists of a first grade teacher, an instructional assistant, the occasional parent volunteer, a community business, and a few energetic Master Gardeners is the way in which their regular ongoing communication opens doors for creative problem solving. For example, when one of the school garden coordinators expressed concern about maintenance in 2015, the group attended a Living Landscape workshop at UC Davis to learn how to create an educational habitat garden by planting perennial pollinator attracting plants.

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The Grange Hall is an historic agricultural landmark located off Hagen Rd.

Immediately following the STGF meeting, I headed to The Grange Hall for the first anniversary meeting of the Napa Farmers Guild. The Farmers Guild strives to “establish an integrated network of social and professional hubs across California where farmers connect, collaborate and find the resources they need to thrive within local food webs that stimulate stronger local economies, create social equity and sustain our natural resources.” The Napa Chapter was started by two local farmers, Seth Chapin and Kate Olen, who have hosted the monthly gatherings for the last year.

Given that there are only 40-50 registered farmers in Napa County, the bright and enthusiastic farmers who launched the Napa Chapter were surprised to have over 60 people attend the kickoff meeting last January! Throughout the year, attendance has waned, and at the 2017 planning session, members expressed an interest in partnering with school gardens.

The SGTF and the Napa Farmers Guild are just two collaborative groups where educators can connect, locate resources, and build support for gardening at school. Many similar organizations exist outside of Napa County, such as the School Garden Network of Sonoma County and the California School Garden Network.

As one farmer the other night aptly said, “Farming can be an isolating profession.” I think this sentiment also applies to school garden enthusiasts, so get out there and meet your like-minded friends! Check out these two exciting upcoming events:

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