Green Thumbs Abound At Vista Unified School Gardens

November 27th, 2017

School gardens are a growing trend across the country, and San Diego County is a leader in that effort. Vista Unified alone has 14 gardens across its schools, and two of those recently celebrated robust harvests.


At Vista Academy (of Visual and Performing Arts), students and staff worked alongside a host of volunteers from the community during the annual garden work party, preparing the garden for a new growing season. WaveCrest Cafe’s Amy Haessly, a Registered Dietitian and the district’s Nutrition Education & Training Supervisor, provided insight into the process of growing and preparing the food to be served in the school’s WaveCrest Cafe. WaveCrest worked with teachers, cafeteria staff and students to ensure the produce was harvested and handled to ensure food safety.

WaveCrest Cafe’s Amy Haessly meets with VAPA students to talk through the process of harvesting and preparing food from the school’s garden.


The school just saw its first harvest of the new school year, yielding a whopping 5.3 pounds of lettuce to be served in the school’s WaveCrest Cafe. Students couldn’t wait until lunchtime to race to the salad bar and see their picture posted on the sign featuring their produce and to taste their harvested lettuce.

A Vista Academy student cuts a fresh plant from the school’s robust garden.


The school year kicked off with its annual garden work party with over 50 Vista Academy families as  well as volunteers from the Green Apple Day of Service.  Vista Academy’s IB/Magnet Coordinator Melanie Paliotti said, “It was remarkable to see our garden packed full on a Saturday morning with Vista Academy students and families, along with volunteers from Verdani Partners, to weed, repair, paint, and prepare a new crop for the start of our school year.” Many of those same families and volunteers also donated plants and seeds along with their time to kick off the year with a robust garden.

VAPA students show off part of their garden harvest.


The garden also receives support via a crowd-funding effort set up by Vista Academy 2nd grade teacher Denise Shaver. Her campaign has seen donations from across the country, including supporters in New York, Texas, as well as across California. The campaign has even received a donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Just 1.6 miles away, students at Olive Elementary School recently celebrated a school garden harvest of their own. The school has several classrooms outfitted with vertical hydroponic growing systems (“Tower Gardens”), allowing students to grow produce inside their classrooms using the innovative hydroponic technology.

A tower garden at Olive Elementary


The classes saw a yield of 4.5 pounds of a variety of mixed greens, including Swiss chard, Bibb lettuce, kale, and basil. That harvest was also cleaned and served in the school’s WaveCrest Cafe, adding to the already abundant salad bar that is offered daily at all Vista Unified elementary schools.


“These tower gardens are a fantastic way for our students to learn about so many things, from the science of plant life and how food is grown, to nutrition and the process of determining where food comes from,” says Olive principal Stephanie Vasquez.” And it’s inspiring to see students get so excited about being able to serve the very food that has been growing in their classrooms.”

Olive elementary students make a final inspection of their plants before starting to harvest.


Both gardens will continue to produce food throughout the school year, which will continue to be served in the schools’ WaveCrest Cafe locations. School gardens are a strategic component of Vista Unified’s Farm To School plan, a multi-year effort that seeks to address three primary areas to engage, “the local community, environment, economy and food system.” The primary areas of focus for Farm To School are:


– Procurement: we continue to purchase produce from local farmers and food producers and promote their products in our schools.

– Education: we are consistently visiting schools and working to engage students in the area of nutrition, agriculture and wellness.

– School gardens: students engage in hands-on learning through gardening, and see the fruits of their efforts first hand (pun intended).

Olive students show their excitement for their tower garden harvest.

To learn more about our growing network of school gardens, or to explore starting a new one, contact Amy Haessly by clicking here.