Marquez School Celebrates Its Student Gardens

By Sue Pascoe

With the school year coming to a close, Marquez Elementary School gardening students and garden coordinator Marie Steckmest invited guests to a special celebration on May 30.

Billy and Janice Crystal, the co-Honorary Mayors of Pacific Palisades, were among those enjoying kale smoothies, a wide assortment of vegetables to munch on and salsa.

Students from 17 classrooms, from kindergarten through fifth grade, gave tours of the student gardens or spoke about what they had grown.

In the background, student trumpeter Sean Wahlig, sax player Antonio Vinzoni and keyboard player James Marks entertained everyone with jazz selections.

Marquez Elementary students, Marie Steckmest and co-Honorary Mayors Billy and Janice Crystal took part in the garden celebration.

Steckmest, a Palisadian and former Citizen of the Year who started the gardening program six years ago with only second-grade students participating, noted how the program has grown.

“I offer it to the teachers and every year more take it in,” Steckmest said.

Two fifth-grade students from Lisa Timmerman’s class said,“Boy, did we plant a lot!” The two explained that one of the plantings had involved a science experiment in which half the class had their plants covered by a clear bag and the other half by a black bag. “I unfortunately had a black bag, so my plant was like a neon yellow,” the first student said, and then explained about photosynthesis and chlorophyll.

“We also planted lettuce because Thomas Jefferson really loved lettuce,” the second student said.

This year, the planting beds were moved to the upper yard (and fenced in to stop squirrels and deer from munching on the vegetables). “It’s a better location because it’s right next to the classrooms,” said Steckmest, who thanked realtor Scott Gibson for financial support, Gelson’s for a gift card, Kellog Garden Supply for soil and Principal Ben Meritt and teachers for assistance.

“We also get free or discounted seeds from various seed companies,” Steckmest said. “The goal is to teach children where food comes from. In the process, kids develop a love of vegetables.”

Besides a vegetable patch, the campus has a butterfly garden (planted with milkweed) and a Peter Rabbit Garden, with parsley, tomato, kale, basil, cilantro and onion. Second graders prepared the salsa from some of these ingredients, plus lemon juice and olive oil.

Third graders told about the native “Three Sisters” gardens planted by the Pawnee, Cherokee and Navajo tribes. Corn, beans and squash are planted in the same location. As the corn removes the nitrogen from the soil, the beans replace it, and the cornstalks give beans a place to climb. The squash plant leaves keep the ground shaded and moist, and also prevent weeds from growing.

There is a California native garden at the school, planted and maintained by fourth graders, which also supports that grade’s social studies curriculum. Fourth graders explained that white sage “is burned and produces a nice aroma; deer grass was used for making baskets; and monkey flowers were used to fight infections.”

Steckmest, a master gardener, noted that “Once a kid plants a seed, they’re hooked for life.”

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