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Judy Crall and Cajon Park's School Garden

Tucked behind the playground at Cajon Park School in Santee School District is a flourishing garden with raised beds, different types of fruit trees, an earthworm hotel, and two incredibly passionate Master Gardeners: Judy Crall and her daughter, Liz Schmitt. Judy and Liz maintain the garden and use it as a learning tool for the Cajon Park students.

Judy and Liz have been running the garden program at Cajon Park School for several years, where they not only teach students how to garden, but also instill an appreciation for the fruits and vegetables student grow. A typical day at the garden involves students checking on their garden beds and observing the successes and failures.


Judy Crall (right), and daughter​ Liz Schmitt (left)


Whether students are growing thriving plants or a bed riddled with weeds, these failures always turn into a positive learning. Judy connects these learning opportunities in the garden to larger global lessons with her students. She wants her students to understand that we are only a small part in a larger ecosystem, and this garden is just a small example of what we can grow on the land. 


The Origin of Garden for Judy

Judy Crall has been gardening since she was "knee-high to a grasshopper" she says. She comes from a family of farmers and gardeners, including grandparents who were farmers in North Carolina and a father who had a passion for gardening. Her father was in the Navy, which meant her family moved around a lot, but wherever they were, they found a place to garden. Judy has lived in Virginia, California, Hawaii, and New Mexico, which allowed her to learn the different gardening techniques of each state. Overall, California has been Judy's favorite due to the year-round growing season. 

Judy became acquainted with the Master Gardener program and found it to be perfect fit for her because she wanted to work with school gardens and people. Judy says, "I'd rather be gardening than anything else, if it's housework, I'm out the door."

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How the Garden Benefits Students​

The garden serves as a tool to help students understand where their food comes from. Judy expressed how important gardening is for elementary school students to learn that food does not just come from a grocery store, but is grown from the Earth. The garden teaches students about ecosystems, how food grows, and how take care of the soil to keep it healthy. Judy and Liz try to help students understand how this garden fits into their life and community of Santee. "We are not the high all-be-all on this planet," says Judy. "We remind students that in the garden, they are visitors."

Students learn to respect nature through the garden program. By working outside during the school day, students feel calmness and serenity that they cannot necessarily get at a desk inside a classroom. While in the garden, Judy encourages her students to keep their voices down in order to keep them aware of what is happening around them. "We want them to see, feel, and listen around the garden. Let the garden help you. See what's going on."


Nutrition and the Garden

Judy has noticed a huge change in eating habits among students who​ partake in school garden activities. She brings up the example of kohlrabi. A parent once brought in seeds neither Judy nor Liz had heard of before. After planning the seeds and learning how to prepare it, kohlrabi quickly become a favorite around the garden.'The kids will look at it and ask, 'what is this?' and we tell them to take a no-thank-you bite."

A no-thank you bite involves trying the new food then discreetly tossing the rest in the worm bin. Judy explains 9/10 students love kohlrabi and will ask for more.

"We strongly encourage them to taste new things." says Judy, "We come to school to learn. This garden is part of the program, and part of the program is learning the taste of these foods. I'm not saying you have to like it, but I want you to try it. You're here to learn and you lean by trying."

This attitude towards trying new things has positively impacted students' eating habits. Judy has noticed a gradual transition from students bringing lunchables, chips, and commercially made sandwiches to more homemade meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. She sometimes even overhears students discussing with each other how the garden fresh food tastes better than grocery store food, saying things like "no, you really need to try this and compare it to what your mom gets from the grocery store."The students' favorite thing to grow in the garden includes carrots, strawberries, and sugar snap peas. Students do not grow just any carrots though, they grow cosmic red, lunar white, solar yellow, and kaleidoscope colored carrots. "We try to grow the fun stuff. They taste better anyways."


Getting Students Excited About Gardening​

When asked how she gets students excited about gardening and horticulture, Judy responds, "It's natural, and feeding the students always helps." Judy has found that many students will ask their teachers for permission to spend extra time at the garden during lunch and recess.

Judy recalled a time when a group of boys came during lunch and were presented with a huge head of broccoli. Judy could see that they were not too keen on eating all that broccoli, so she suggested trying it with ranch dressing. The students and Judy ended up enjoying the broccoli together during lunchtime, and they were able to get to know each other. "It's fun to succeed here, but it is even better to succeed with students in a smaller group setting."


School Gardens like the one at Cajon Park School give students access to healthy food, an outdoor environment, and important knowledge on gardening, the environment, nutrition, and responsibility.

Judy says. "It gives students abilities. They learn that they can do something." Students are taught that they can garden anywhere and use their knowledge in any setting, much like Judy did while moving around when she was younger.

Judy explains the biggest takeaway for her students is learning to love good food. She says, "I just want the students to know that eating good food can be a fun thing. Being able to eat what you grow is even better.

For more information on Master Gardeners of San Diego, click here.

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