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A Garden Grows at Oceana High School

The Oceana Garden Project presentation at Tuesday's Jefferson Union High School District Board meeting showed the students', teachers', and the community's dedication to Oceana's flourishing garden.

On Tuesday, the Jefferson Union High School District Board celebrated how much the has grown since its inception.

The Oceana High School Garden Project was the brainchild of student Naftali Moed, who was inspired by a summer internship at Pie Ranch. Although he will be the first to say that he knew nothing about gardening, on a car ride back from Pie Ranch, Moed dreamed of a garden at Oceana where students and the community could come together to create something extraordinary.

He received the support of Oceana High School principal Caro Pemberton, wrote a grant request to the California Department of Health and secured faculty member Laurie Hughes as his advisor. 

With help from John Schultz, JUHSD Director of Maintenance and Operations, Moed was able to choose a piece of land behind the school cafeteria. The 20 by 30 foot garden pergola in the garden was built by student and community volunteers, and thousands of student volunteer hours helped to complete the garden space.

“All of the volunteers made this happen," said Moed. "I didn’t know anything about gardening. We all worked together to make this happen. We learned how to build something amazing. We’ve built something remarkable.”

Students in the Garden Advisory work in the garden daily. Allison Kephart, a junior, explained the layout of the garden, pointing out different types of plants in a PowerPoint slideshow shown at the board meeting, and the various chores each student group completes in the allotted Advisory time.  The garden has a variety of fruits and vegetables that are used in Laurie Hughes cooking and nutrition classes.

After explaining that her prior interest in nature inspired her to join the Garden Advisory, Kephart said, “It’s a really valuable experience working in a garden. Overtime, you watch things grow. You watch this little strawberry grow from a green nub into something red and delicious. It’s so rewarding to see life grow. You understand how food grows and you come to appreciate what we have.”

Other students who weren’t familiar with gardening took the opportunity to try something new. Senior George Santos knew nothing about gardening, but he was inspired by the hard work.

“I worked on the beds, and learned to use the chicken wire to keep out the gophers. I dug holes, used the wrong chicken wire to keep out the gophers and had to redo all the holes. Most of my sweat is in these holes!”

Sophomore Chris Cartagena also was unfamiliar with gardening until he joined the Garden Advisory.  His big project was building the chicken coop for the resident 10 chickens.

After participating in a workshop at Pie Ranch, he learned how to build the coop correctly, including adding windows for gathering the eggs.

Laurie Hughes, Oceana teacher, explained that the garden is used often and in different ways.

“The garden is used as a working lab for science classes. The Math classes created the spiral for the herb spiral and used measurements to help with the garden’s slope.  Last week, an English students used the pergola for class. We will continue to find ways to bring more students and the community to the garden. It’s very exciting!”

Two years after Moed’s garden dream, the Oceana Garden Project is fully functioning  Graveled areas are now green planters; another corner holds a chicken coop.  The pergola gives a shady spot for wooden benches, a niche towards the back has a spiral of herb plants, and every area is efficiently utilized to produce fresh vegetables.

At the end of the presentation, Moed humbly thanked the Board for their continued support.

“I’ve found that we’ve been extremely fortunate. Most people would be pleading for help from their district boards, and you have given us so much support. Thank you so much.”

Caro Pemberton was visibly moved when speaking about Moed’s commitment to the garden. 

“Naftali is quite awe inspiring- quite a remarkable person," she said. "This is the project of a visionary young man--everything from the feeding the chickens to the irrigation.”

Pemberton estimated that the school raised approximately $15,000 from various grants for the garden, including a $1,000 from OPTSA, the Oceana Parent Teacher Student Assoication, and donations from Home Depot, Lowe’s, a variety of grants, and teacher, parent, community, and student donations.

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