Several years ago, Charles W. Eliot Middle School in Altadena won the governor’s physical fitness challenge and received $100,000. With those funds, the school built a physical fitness center for the students. To continue this emphasis on health and wellness, the next goal was to turn a fallow lot on the north side of the school into an urban garden.
Principal Peter Pannell, who was a student at Charles Elliot an indeterminate number of years ago (he wouldn’t budge on that point) was telling us that the new garden is part of their project-based learning programs, and a continuation of the school’s efforts to educate and lead the students to making more nutritious food choices and be physically fit—for the rest of their lives.
Nine beds were built; three apiece for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Plants will be chosen according to what grows well in hot beds (which will receive the most sun), medium beds, and cool beds (located closest to the school building and often in shade). The students will be planting tomatoes, strawberries, sunflowers, squash, and even Quinoa. Trellises are awaiting climbing varieties of veggies, while blackberry bushes are being planted along the fence, as are orange, lemon, and sweet ‘n sour apple trees (donated by the L.A. Conservation Corps).
Corps members were present to dig holes for the trees and bushes, but the students (after the rain abated) were scheduled to come and do the actual planting. Each class will tend to the plants, deal with insect and weather issues, and harvest their crop. Though most of what’s grown will be prepared and consumed on campus, Principal Pannell envisions an opportunity to teach the children about entrepreneurial efforts like harvesting to sell (he imagines the beds full of pumpkins in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving).
The garden was realized through six months of hard work by volunteer students, parents, and teachers. Actor Cameron Diaz, who filmed “Bad Teacher” at Eliot, donated funds for the project, as part of a $10,000 donation from Environmental Media Association and Sony Pictures. Actor Mehcad Brooks (“True Blood” and “Necessary Roughness”) was present to deliver a spirited address to the students.
Lisa Eglinton, district manager Starbucks in Old Town, came with a fellow employee on successive weekends to help crack the hardened ground, create a drip irrigation system, and build the beds, which had been estimated to take only three weekends, but actually turned into five—one day of work, one bed built. They are so massive and well-constructed, Charles Eliot students will have this urban garden of their own for generations to come.
The garden will be dedicated to the memory of Stephen Scott Buck, a well-respected teacher and avid gardener who died two years ago.
Eliot’s Urban Garden
Charles W. Eliot Middle School
2184 Lake Avenue, Altadena