Kindergarten students squeal with delight after spotting a roly-poly bug, and one brave first grader picks up a hard-working worm to show her classmates as little hands dig holes with a small shovel and learn how to properly place plants in soil softened by rain the night before.
It’s just another day in the garden life of Darnall Charter School teacher Jessica Eves, who has been at the elementary school in the Redwood Village area of San Diego for nearly 20 years.
Eves is the garden educator/coordinator at the Title 1 school, overseeing Darnall’s organic garden that holds 18 irrigated garden beds — right in the center of the campus. Eves teaches nearly 500 children every week about the importance of agriculture, how to plant and harvest, pest management, composting and learning about nutrition.
The garden includes a variety of healthy herbs, fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers, a compost area and even a Free Little Library with children’s books. Eves’ classroom is adjacent to the garden and has a hydroponic farm stand and an indoor grow light system.
Eves is one of dozens of educators around the county who have been the beneficiaries of grants from different local and national organizations that promote and champion agriculture. One of those groups, San Diego Ag in the Classroom, provided $1,200 in funding in 2019 for the garden’s blueberry bed and some of the trees that will soon bear fruit again.
San Diego Ag in the Classroom is a nonprofit operated under the auspices of the San Diego Farm Bureau, the nonprofit voice of local farmers.
Established in 1914, the San Diego Farm Bureau seeks to foster San Diego agriculture through education, public relations and public policy advocacy to promote the economic viability, sustainability and community building of agriculture.
The Future of Farming Starts with a Love of Agriculture
“We want people, particularly young people, to have a love of agriculture, said David Drucker, past president of San Diego Ag in the Classroom and now on its board of directors – and also winner of the 2022 San Diego Farm Bureau Service Award.
“We need the younger generation to take to careers in agriculture,” Drucker said. “I feel that’s huge. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see teachers in San Diego County doing a fabulous job making that ag connection with the students. And I also love to see the underserved communities step up.”
The San Diego Farm Bureau reports that there are more than 5,700 farms in the county. San Diego ranks 19th in the nation among more than 3,000 counties in farm economy. The county is the nation’s top producer of nursery crops and avocados, and is No. 2 in acres of guavas, pomegranates and macadamia nuts.
San Diego County also is No. 1 in the number of part time farmers and No. 2 in farms with women as the principal operator. The region also has more certified organic growers than any other county in the nation with more than 360 certified organic farms, as well as more small farms of less than 10 acres than any other county.
The San Diego Farm Bureau says local agriculture contributes almost $2.9 billion to the local economy and ag’s future is in the hands of today’s youngest students. San Diego Ag in the Classroom was launched in 1996 by agriculturists looking to advance that goal.
Diana Bergman is the current president of San Diego Ag in the Classroom and has been involved with the program since its beginnings.
A former middle school and high school teacher, she said the group is working hard to educate kids about agriculture and helping them learn to make the connection about the origins of the food they eat, about where the plants they have in their home come from.
Aging Farm Operators
She said there is a concern about the future of farming. “Statistics say that the average farmer in our county is 65. When I started in this work 10 years ago, the average age was 55. In this industry, there’s still a huge lack of younger people,” Bergman said. “It’s not a flashy industry, but it’s so essential and I think the pandemic really drove that home.”
“We tend to push our children into jobs where we have familiarity or the idea of a super lofty or important career. Farming is important work. I think if a child does decide to go into agriculture, it’s true that it’s not the easiest in terms of economic prospects. You’re not going to get rich quick, but you’re going to do something you love and something benefits society every day.”
This year, through an award from Encinitas-based Sage Garden Project, Eves went from part-time to full-time garden educator at Darnall.
“We couldn’t do this without the funding,” she said. “We got our first grant from another organization to do the basics and do it right. In the end, without the fund grantors like San Diego Ag in the Classroom, programs like this don’t exist.”
San Diego Ag in the Classroom is currently accepting applications for its current round of garden grants at https://sdaitc.org/grants/ with a Nov. 16 cutoff date. Monetary support is expected to be in amounts of $500-$2,000.
San Diego Ag in the Classroom
BOARD PRESIDENT: Diana Bergman
BUSINESS: Nonprofit agriculture education
BOARD MEMBERS: 9
SOCIAL IMPACT: San Diego Ag in the Classroom grants help students in underserved communities become working partners in gardens at their schools, learning how to grow, cultivate and use flowers and plants, including herbs, fruits and vegetables.
NOTABLE: San Diego Ag in the Classroom is part of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. The group and its partners seek to inspire kids and educate them so they are aware of what it takes to be good stewards of the land while supporting careers in agriculture.