Marquez Garden Full of Surprises

It was a pleasant surprise to be schooled by a fifth grader—not to mention second, third and fourth graders—at the Marquez Elementary School Garden on May 18.

Each guest was assigned a fifth grader who served as a tour guide at the garden, located on the lower Marquez playground. The garden’s emphasis is to allow students to experience a “seed to table” concept. Under the direction of Marie Steckmest (Ms. Marie), they plant, tend, harvest, cook and eat the vegetables grown in the raised beds.

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The Palisades News reporter was escorted by Katia Stutz, who will attend Archer School next year.

“This is the three sister garden,” Stutz said. “We plant corn, beans and squash.” Native Americans used the concept because the corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, which is important to corn. Shallow-rooted squash vines are like living mulch, preventing emerging weeds and keeping soil moisture from evaporating. Third graders plant the seeds and fourth graders make the succotash from the harvested vegetables.

Stutz said wires cover all of the beds so that “squirrels and deer can’t eat the plants.”

At the salsa garden, second grader Luke Jacobs said, “We grow tomatoes, cilantro, peppers and onions.” Fellow student Horus Kup added, “We grow basil, too, because it makes the tomatoes grow.”

At the composting bin, second graders Jake Vanderveen and Nathan Sileerberg were busy mixing apple cores, melon rinds, coffee grinds, banana peels, lettuce, toilet-paper rolls and shredded newspapers into the dirt compost heap, where worms are thriving.

“It’s a messy job,” Sileerberg said. “Some of the people don’t like worms.”

Vanderveen added, “I don’t know why people don’t want to do this. Maybe they think it’s gross.”

Visitors also enjoyed a Peter Rabbit garden that featured flowers, lettuce, radishes, carrots, Swiss chard and beets.

At the butterfly garden, Stutz said that flowers were good for butterflies, except “Don’t plant red, because bees can’t see red.”

Fourth graders Eliav Zendehdel and Jordan Houegban told observers about the importance of mulching. Houegban said, “You can use bits of bark, grass, leaves and straw for mulch,” and Zendehdel added, “You should leave space around the plant.”

Zendehdel told the News, “It was fun putting down mulch together. We did the entire native garden.”

Fourth graders Mario Jimenez and Oliver Howe said they made the salsa and the succotash that was available for visitors to taste.

While guests were sampling the tasty fare, Principal Benjamin Meritt said, “We want to thank Ms. Marie and the kids for doing a wonderful job.”

Steckmest, a former Citizen of the Year, thanked realtor Scott Gibson. She also praised Gelson’s store director Mike Lee, Patrick Mendoza (assistant store manager) and Jose Orellana (assistant produce manager).

Since there are 400 students at Marquez, if the garden doesn’t produce enough vegetables for the kids to cook in the classroom, Gelson’s provides the extras, Steckmest said. “We love their organic produce.”

Steckmest also thanked Barbara Marinacci, the Palisades Garden Club and three Eagle Scouts, Piers Carmichael, Parker Smith and Zach Eastland, who worked on sheds, fences and pens for their projects. Other sponsors included Jamba Juice, Kellogg’s Garden Product, and the Whole Kids Foundation.

Parent Beverly Jacobs said, “If every community had a Marie, the world would be a better place.”


Katia Stutz served as a tour guide for the Marquez Garden.

Oliver Howe (left) and Mario Jimenez made salsa and offered it to visitors.

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