Noe Valley Voice May 2010

Student gardeners (left to right) Francisco Cardona Rojas, Noe Roman, and Nery Lara enjoy tending the flowers, herbs, and vegetables in Lick's outdoor planters.
Photo by Pamela Gerard

School Report: It's Harvest Time for Students at James Lick

By Heidi Anderson

Last fall, eight wooden raised garden beds were installed in the upper yard at James Lick Middle School with the help of several community members--including the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, James Lick staff and parents, and employees from the Whole Foods Market on 24th Street.

Since then, everything's been coming up roses--or rather, lettuce, nasturtium, and scarlet runner beans.

"We just harvested the garden, and the crop was way larger than any of us had anticipated," says Michael Longnecker, who teaches math and science at the Noe Street school, plus an elective gardening class. He says 90 students have taken part over the course of this school year.

Students in the science class have been learning about plant biology, while those in the gardening class have been studying some more practical concepts, such as how to grow foods organically and use past-prime veggies for compost.

"They're out there working in the garden sometimes for the majority of the class time," says Longnecker.

As promised when the program began, the kids are getting lots of encouragement and real-life information from the community, with visits from organic farmers, Whole Foods staff, and even chefs from the California Culinary Academy.

The seventh-graders have naturally been curious to taste the products of their planting, watering, and scientific observations.

Student gardener Nery Lara says she tried the lettuce, if a bit hesitantly. "It was good." She says she normally wouldn't have tried it, but it was fun to taste the leafy vegetable after watching it grow.

Classmate Noe Roman says he tried the peas. He also says he likes that "everything in the garden is so organic."

Francisco Cardona Rojas has enjoyed becoming a gardener, too. "We get to go outside and plant things and then watch it all grow," he says. "The sweet peas we planted turned out really, really good!"

The garden now is filling up with an assortment of peas, rosemary, cilantro, mint, chives, artichokes, cabbage, and some peppers. What is harvested will be tasted in class and, if the tasters agree, sent home to students' families.

When school lets out over the summer, parent Mara Sieling, who is a professional gardener, will keep the garden going.

"It'll be mostly watering and weeding," says Sieling. She's been in the gardening business for about six years and lives on Chattanooga Street.

"It'll be easy for me to come by once or twice a week, and I'm hoping to get a few more volunteers to join me." (Email her at

There is talk of the students hosting a stall at the Saturday Farmers' Market on 24th Street. Longnecker says selling the food is a matter of logistics, including getting permits and arranging for adult supervision at the market.

Still, he says, "I know that there's a lot of hope that we can do that next year."


James Lick Middle School
Bita Nazarian, Principal
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street

Fairmount Elementary School
Mary Lou Cranna, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall

Mission Education Center
Deborah Molof, Principal
1670 Noe Street at Noe Street

Alvarado Elementary School
Robert Broecker, Principal
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado Street

Extra Cool Jazz: In late March, the kids at Alvarado School were treated to a jazz concert starring vocalist Clairdee, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony's "Adventures in Music" program. AIM provides free music education to all the city's elementary schools, as well as to some independent and parochial schools. Each year, the students hear four live concerts in a variety of musical genres, and receive a workbook and other freebies, including photos of the performers. Now in its 22nd year, AIM is an innovative program looked to as a model across the nation. Its biggest support comes from the Black and White Ball, a fundraiser held this year on May 22. Headlining the Civic Center event will be Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, and Kool & the Gang. For tickets or more information, visit
Photo by Beverly Tharp