Date: Feb 14, 2013

School is a lot more than learning the three R’s these days for pupils at McCabe Union Elementary School in El Centro, Calif.

With the recent addition of its school garden (aptly named “Friendship Garden”), school officials and staff are using cutting-edge technology to help the Kindergarten through Third graders learn all about fruits and veggies. In addition to a curriculum that teaches about nutritional value, the students get a first-hand look at how the plants grow – and literally get their hands dirty to help keep the garden thriving.

“A lot of them haven’t been exposed to this, so for them to see in person what we’re talking about – pictures is one thing, but to taste it,” Kindergarten Teacher Lisa Tucker says is another. She said sometimes after harvesting, it is a student’s first time tasting a particular fruit or vegetable. “Just to be able to experience [this] is a once in a lifetime thing; It’s very rare.”

Twenty-two of Tucker’s students went into their garden Wednesday to help plant beside Liz Peterson, a former first grade teacher who helps oversee the project. Petersons’ husband, along with the hard-working crew of Black Dog Farms, help maintain the garden, with their most recent contribution adding hydroponic cultivation, or tunnel farming, to help curtail high winds this winter in the Imperial Valley. In addition to the recent addition of the tunnel, the garden has drip irrigation.

But none of the more than 1,000 students at McCabe would have access to their garden without the generosity and help of Carol Saikhon, through the Marion Saikhon Foundation. The California resident helps the project succeed.

Peterson said it came about after her last year employed with the school. While she read a story to her class, she asked the children ‘Where does our food come from?’ The answer shocked her: “The grocery store.” Peterson said then they knew they had to fix this.

She said in addition to what the children would plant, her husband said it would be great for the students to know what grows in the Imperial Valley, which would help them better understand the world around them “The kids need to be aware of where our food comes from, what it looks like and what we grow here in the Imperial Valley, both in the spring time and the winter time,” Peterson said.

And after planting Wednesday, the students will have another crop to watch grow until their favorite part arrives:  getting to eat the 22 watermelon transplants they planted when they ripen.

For more information about the Foundation, including how you can donate, visit

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