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Gardening programs sprout at area schools

Some students will add gardening to their reading, writing and 'rithmatic this school year.

Private Imago Dei Middle School is expanding its gardening program, while Continental Elementary School in Green Valley has reclaimed its greenhouse.

When Imago Dei students return to classes Monday, the eighth-graders will join the central Tucson school's gardening project. Their job: Implement a business plan for selling produce to make the school gardens self-sufficient. Volunteers from Intuit helped last year's seventh-graders draw up the plan.

Seventh-graders plant and cultivate 650 square feet of on-campus and neighborhood gardens. Fifth- and sixth-graders use the school gardens for lessons in science, math and indigenous cultures.

What started as a fun way to learn outdoors has turned into a push for food security, says Mark Zero, the school's development director.

He hopes the students, all from low-income families, will learn that urban gardening provides access to fresh, healthy foods.

"They can start planting things at home," Zero says. "We want to get them conscious that this is not just a school project but part of their lives."

At the Green Valley K-8 school, Green Valley Gardeners members thoroughly cleaned and organized the greenhouse, which is about the size of a small one-car garage.

Major construction at the school made the 17-year-old greenhouse and adjacent outdoor garden nearly inaccessible for the last two years. The structure eventually turned into general storage space.

First-grade teacher Lina Szabo is ready to reuse it when school starts Aug. 12.

"I'm excited to go in and show students there are other places where you can grow plants," Szabo says.

She expects other teachers will use the greenhouse to control conditions so that students can observe the effects of soil, temperature and water on plants.

Gardeners members also want to help. "(We) are very interested in being volunteers to help kids through projects and help teachers develop curriculum," member and retired Continental teacher Bill Voorhees says.

Neighborhood group helps families rent plots

Santos Catalan, 10, asked a neighbor why he can't use Barrio Kroeger Lane's Verdugo Community Garden.

He asked "because it's close to us and I like growing stuff a lot," Santos says.

The easy answer: His family doesn't rent a plot.

Josefina Cardenas thinks a better answer is to help Santos' and other families rent space in the garden managed by the Community Gardens of Tucson.

Cardenas, chair of the neighborhood association, has begun raising funds to rent as many plots as possible at $18 a month.

She has planned monthly events at Verdugo Park. The first one, Aug. 17, starts at 6 p.m. and will feature a waila band, fry bread and raffle. For more information, call 971-6490.

August planting

With fall planting around the corner, Tucson Botanical Gardens' horticulturists suggest these tasks for August:

• Get beds ready for planting winter vegetables and fall annuals.

• Pull summer-season weeds before they go to seed.

• Fertilize roses and citrus at the end of the month.

• Cut wilted flowers off plants, known as dead-heading.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at

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