Three apple trees, two almond trees, five grape vines and rows of radishes, green beans and corn—this is just the beginning of the Dutcher Middle School garden.
It was only a few years ago that Dutcher teacher Angela DeTomasi conceived of the idea of establishing a school garden after her own interest in the agriculture industry as a home gardener was piqued. Having called Alaska and Michigan home, DeTomasi found the bountiful agriculture industry and ideal growing climate in California too good to pass up. This past February marked the first planting at the Dutcher garden and with DeTomasi’s goal of having the middle school students cultivate and consume the products of the garden, this first season is the start of something bigger.
“I have this dream of bringing in chefs and setting out some tables on the lawn as some type of fundraiser where people can enjoy the food we’re growing,” said DeTomasi.
DeTomasi turned the idea for a garden into a reality by approaching the Dutcher administration and Turlock Unified School District with her proposal and once they were on board, her husband drew up the blueprint. The garden has since been made possible through the donations of crops from Duarte Nursery and Burchell Nursery, as well as grants from the Turlock Education Foundation, National Agriculture Science Center as well as several local businesses. DeTomasi and the Garden Club also fundraised for two years to make the garden a possibility. DeTomasi has visited various gardens, from Santa Cruz to Hanford, to gain ideas and ensure that Dutcher’s garden is the best it can be.
“I had started the Garden Club a couple of years ago so this was always a goal to have a garden on campus,” explained DeTomasi.
Fellow teachers, members of the club and other students contribute their time every other Friday, during lunch and once a week through the club.
“The boys and the girls love it. You don’t have to motivate them, they go out and work in the garden themselves,” said Dutcher Principal Scott Lucas.
The community has continued to contribute to the project as the Turlock High School and Pitman High School agriculture departments are lending their expertise to the future agriculture students.
“Turlock High School Ag Mechanics class is making a large, about eight by four feet, planter box for the garden. We want to teach the students all different types of gardening,” said DeTomasi. “At the end of the year Pitman Ag is also donating seedlings that they have started.”
As the community continues to contribute in various ways to the Dutcher garden, DeTomasi hopes that the garden will continue to grow for the students and the school. The garden has served to not only beautify the Dutcher campus, but has afforded students the opportunity to witness their hard work come to fruition while honing gardening skills.
“There is this great agriculture support in this area that I am trying to tap into. I want the students to realize that there are career options down this path too,” said DeTomasi.