DEL MAR — Hundreds of elementary students flooded the San Diego County Fair with pots of sprouting radishes and lettuces to be judged last Friday. Students have been readying for the day since April.
In spring Don Diego Plant, Grow, Eat volunteers visit schools throughout the county and instruct students on farming basics. They bring containers, soil and seeds, and help students with initial planting.
Kindergarten students grow radishes. Fifth grade students plant a three pot mini garden that contains radishes and a variety of lettuces.
After months of watering and care students take their veggies to the fair farm area for judging. Each student receives a participation ribbon. The top growers in each classroom group are also awarded first, second and third place ribbons.
Students can then go to an outdoor wash station to rinse off their veggies and eat them on the spot.
On Friday fifth grade teacher Tammy Robinson, of Nye Elementary in National City, also brought along ranch dressing to add to students’ school grown veggies. She said it is important for students to experience planting food and eating it.
“They are so use to going to the market,” Robinson said.
Kindergartener Evan Bartoe, of Doyle Elementary in University City, took a bite of his radish and enthusiastically said “it’s delicious!”
The pride of growing their own food can be seen on students’ faces.
“Those with two green leaves are just as excited,” Chana Mannen, Don Diego Scholarship Foundation executive director, said.
The program makes a big impact on students who do not have school gardens. Throughout the course of the fair over 2,000 students bring veggies to be judged.
To encourage more schools to participate donors and service groups help sponsor bus transportation for schools serving low-income families through the Don Diego Scholarship Foundation.
This year 73 buses were funded.
“Without transportation these children would not be able to have their plant judged, and to experience the fair,” Mannen said.
Marie Kelley has been a volunteer judge for 15 years.
She is also a member of the San Diego Les Dames d’Escoffier, which helped sponsor this year’s buses.
The women’s group supports the food, beverage and hospitality industry through education and philanthropy. Kelly said the group sponsored bus transportation to further its support for the Plant, Grow, Eat program.
“What’s more important than teaching children about growing their own healthy food,” Kelley said.
The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was formed in 1986, and has awarded more than $682,500 in agricultural education grants and college scholarships over the years.