OCEANSIDE — Over the last two years, Libby Elementary has transformed what was once a vacant lot on its campus into a green, thriving garden for its community.
“There was nothing here — no trees, no plants, no irrigation lines, just bare dirt,” said Principal César Mora during the garden’s community grand opening on Aug. 28. “And we’ve turned it into this beautiful garden.”
Now, when parents walk their children to campus, they see a “green space” dedicated to their entire community.
“Our mission is to bring our school community together to provide a healthy, a safe and thriving environment for our neighbors, children, our youth, our adults and more importantly our senior citizens,” Mora told an audience of students, teachers and parents.
The garden originally started in a much smaller, enclosed space with garden beds of squash and other vegetables before expanding to include a small orchard of lemons, pomegranates, plums, oranges, avocadoes and other fruits as well as cherry tomatoes, beans, corn and other produce. The expansion also included installing irrigation lines into the garden, an ADA-compliant gate, a black fence and a concrete pad meant for a greenhouse at a future date.
To pay for the garden’s expansion, Oceanside Unified School District obtained a grant from the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency.
Community members can tend to their garden beds during and right after school hours when they come to pick up their kids. Mora hopes the garden will help community members feel better about venturing out of their homes and making connections with neighbors — something they may be otherwise afraid to do.
Mora said the garden is a “safe place for everybody.”
To make the garden a more inviting place, Mora planted nopales, cacti that are commonly used in Mexican cuisine. He said the nopales came from “having conversations with our families.”
“This is our neighborhood, and that’s a staple of our diet,” Mora said about the nopales. “So I said, OK, let’s plant something that they can recognize, that they can consume, that they will automatically know, ‘This is a place I can identify with.’”
Now, when parents walk their children to school, they are greeted by waving nopales lining the fence that faces their homes behind campus.
“I want them to see something that they can look forward to,” Mora said. “Not just the fence, but something green, some food they recognize.”
The garden also has yerba santa, an herb also found in Mexican cuisine and another staple food in the community, according to Mora. One of the mothers who regularly tend to the garden introduced the herb.
Mora said the school is not quite ready to take what produce they grow in the garden to the school cafeteria.
The goal is to eventually sell some of Libby Elementary’s produce to Nutrition Services, according to Director Naomi Shadwell.
Other schools in the district with gardens, like Palmquist Elementary, have been selling to Nutrition Services for quite some time. The funds gained from selling to Nutrition Services helps to fulfill equipment needs for the gardens.
What makes Libby Elementary’s garden unique from the district’s other school gardens is its focus on the community.
“The big thing with this garden is it’s a lot more community-involved, which is really amazing,” Shadwell said.
Fifth-grader Gracie Davidson loves her school’s garden.
“It’s so pretty,” she said. “All the plants, the trees — it just makes our school look good.”
Samantha Taylor covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son