MRE Garden Club grows helpful lessons

Hilliard Harper (from left), Janelle Manzano, Liberty Morgan and Eric Morgan prepare rabbit fences at the Miramar Ranch Elementary School Garden. (photo by John Gregory)

MRE Garden Club grows helpful lessons

The Garden Club at Miramar Ranch Elementary School meets in the mornings before classes and not only helps students learn about nature the results help feed students in the school cafeteria.

None of this would happen without effort from volunteers. Eric Morgan ­– whose daughter Liberty attended and was recently promoted from Miramar Ranch Elementary ­– headed the efforts for the Garden Club this past school year.

Morgan is a humble and somewhat reluctant Gardening Club volunteer. He said he has no real interest in the subject, but became involved when his daughter’s Girl Scout troop once worked on a project in the garden. He stated that it seemed like another good place for students to “hang out” before classes.

“If there weren’t ever kids that wanted to come, I would have stopped doing it a long time ago,” Morgan said. “But the kids come back and they’re here and they have fun, so I just stuck with it.”

Morgan arrived each weekday at about 7:05 a.m. and stayed until around 7:40 a.m. during the school year, he said. Students come and go, with between 10 and 20 on any given day.

“They’ll do anything from helping move some mulch or do weeds or vegetables. They help us do a lot of harvesting,” Morgan said.

Harvesting is done at least once a week. One week this spring they delivered about 19 pounds of food to the school cafeteria for the Garden to Café Program, he said.

Items in the garden include a few types of romaine lettuce, butterhead lettuce, chard, ground cherries (related to tomatillos), radishes, beets, collard greens, asparagus, broccoli and carrots. The orchard includes apple, apricot, peach, mandarin orange, nectarine, lemon and pomegranate trees. There are two blueberry bushes, grape vines and a passion fruit vine that has produced about 100 pounds of fruit this year, Morgan said.

Last year, a Boy Scout working on his Eagle project built wooded garden boxes. Morgan expects about three more Scouts to build other plant beds this summer.

“I’ll be here helping to facilitate that. This is awesome. I never got to be involved in Boy Scouts, so it’s nice to help out,” Morgan said.

He credits his wife, Jacqueline, with providing the botanical research for the garden. He explained that it was Jacqueline who insisted that if they were to be involved, it should be done correctly.

Morgan helped start a curriculum with former Miramar Ranch Elementary Family Faculty Association President Jennifer Leader, who was instrumental in getting the garden in order a few years ago.

On a Saturday morning this spring, Eric and Liberty were joined by volunteers such as nearby resident Hilliard Harper and others, as well as Janelle Manzano, Farm to School Program specialist at San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). The group was working to mostly install rabbit cages around the plant boxes to prevent the bunnies from eating the plants this summer.

Manzano explained that the SDUSD Farm to School program allocated $200 toward the project. The funds were originally donated to the SDUSD program by the Village Garden Club of La Jolla. The funds were earmarked for the district’s Garden to Cafe program in which items from a school’s garden are used for the cafeteria lunchtime salad bar.

“Eric reached out and said he needed fencing,” Manzano stated.

The group was also fixing the sprinklers and getting the plant beds ready for the next set of volunteers who take over in the upcoming school year.

“I really hope we can find somebody to take this over because … I enjoy kids having a safe place in the morning to come and have fun,” Morgan said.

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