CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Longtime resident Dorothea Smith, 93, was alarmed during a recent walk as she noticed the amount of water used on inedible landscaping. Rather than just shaking her head at the waste, Smith resolved to change the water-hungry habits of her community.
She began by working with Cardiff Elementary administrators, parents and staff to develop a plan to increase the amount of edible landscape on the already productive campus. On Dec. 11, dozens of volunteers planted 20 apple and tangerine trees on the school grounds. Smith’s zeal for a landscaping approach based around food was mirrored by passions already brewing on the school campus, specifically with Principal Julie Parker and staff members Danan McNamara and Devon Azzam.
The first fruit trees at the elementary school are now sinking their roots into the ground for generations to come.
McNamara, a kindergarten teacher for the past 15 years, was thrilled to see the high level of participation. “There was an amazing turnout on planting day. We had such support for this,” she said. “A professional landscape architect helped guide the volunteers to get the width and depth right for planting the trees.”
The trees included 10 Satsuma tangerines and ten apples, of the Gordon, Anna and Golden Dorsett varieties, which grow well on the coast and ripen during the school year. “I want the children to have the experience of plucking a ripe fruit off the tree and eating it straight off the branch,” Smith said. “What better way to teach children about the origin of their food supply. This is especially true in Southern California where we can grow fruit year round.”
“It’s huge to be able to plant 20 fruit trees on the campus,” McNamara said. “It’s exciting to expand our existing gardens into other areas. Now more of the campus has an edible landscape.”
The school’s future gardens will include a pollinator garden with seasonal butterflies, insects, flowers and berries, as well as more area to grow vegetables to accompany the
Grow Your Lunch Program funded by the Rob Machado Foundation.
Through the Grow Your Lunch Program, each class will have the opportunity to grow a crop of lettuce for the school cafeteria. The students had their first harvest in November, which was served for lunch at the school salad bar. The Rob Machado Foundation has contributed to the development of the pollinator garden and has also provided garden boxes outside of each classroom.
“Everything can be taught out in the garden,” McNamara said. “The more kids learn where food comes from, get their hands in the dirt, then they make real life connections to things they’re learning in the classroom.” Her class just harvested its lettuce crop. “They learn that it doesn’t always happen quickly but if you work hard and be patient, nurture it, then it will produce,” she said.
Azzam, the garden program coordinator for the school, is working to expand the edible landscape program. “Kids can really get in touch with the whole food production cycle,” she said. “There’s an understanding of how our habitat is connected.”
The vision is evolving to create an edible landscape so that the students are surrounded by gardens. As Azzam took students on tours of the trees just after they were planted, she said they had a lot of good ideas and questions. “They asked things like ‘How tall will they grow? How do we grow a new tangerine tree if these are seedless? How long will it take for the fruit to ripen once the flowers turn into apples?’”
The historical significance of Smith’s contribution to the school is underscored by her latest project. In the 1950s, Smith Construction Company, the family business owned by Smith and her husband, built the current school. All four of their children attended the elementary school, and she served as president of the PTA when the organization was known as the Mother’s Club.
Smith was thrilled to see so many children involved in planting the fruit trees on their own school campus. “They will always remember that they helped plant that apple tree or that tangerine tree,” she said. “It will be significant in their memory of attending Cardiff
“Kids at the school were much more involved than we were back then in planting the trees,” said Rosemary Smith KimBal, one of Smith’s daughters. She fondly recalled planting a flowering eucalyptus tree on the campus when she graduated from the school.