Merced County Office of Education

Winton’s Winfield Garden Gives Students Hands-on Experience


Third graders at a Winton elementary school have a green thumb.

The 20 students in Bulmaro Lopez’ classroom at Winfield Elementary School are finishing up a winter garden and are about to plant the spring-summer version. This is the third year Lopez has introduced the gardening element as part of their scientific studies.

“It’s hands-on science in a way,” Lopez said. “They really do enjoy it. They are all involved.”

In two plots flanking the third grade wing and a strip near the classroom windows, the students grow potatoes, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, red onions, celery and carrots.

The spring-summer garden about to be planted will include string beans, tomatoes, broccoli and hot peppers and the first foray into pumpkin growing.

Principal Kim Sherman said the garden is becoming a school tradition and parents are involved, too. She said students aren’t afraid to get dirty in the various aspects of tending to the garden.

Luis Jaime, 9, thinks the class garden is wonderful. His favorite vegetable is cabbage and he likes harvesting the crops and seeing the end results of their labor.

Jeremiah Price, also 9, said the garden is beautiful and he likes potatoes the best. His favorite thing in the garden is digging.

Third-grader Stephanie Ortega said the garden is awesome and she is partial to carrots. Her favorite activity is watering plants in the greenhouse.

Lopez said during the school’s open house, students often will direct their parents to the garden before they visit the classrooms.

“At recess time, rather than go out and play, the students will ask for tools to tend to the garden,” Lopez said. “At the end of May we will have the ‘Third Grade French Fry Day’ when students fix baked potatoes, French fries, chorizo, potato salad and potatoes with cheese.”

Lopez said his students have also taken a liking to green vegetable smoothies, processed in blenders bought for the gardening program. The school bought tools and the greenhouse for the program.

The teacher with 18 years experience teaching in Winton said he has always enjoyed gardening and has one at home. As a child, he enjoyed gardening at the one-acre plot at his father’s home.

Some students don’t have a place to grow fruits and vegetables at home. Winfield second-graders look forward to their turn in the garden and fourth-graders want to come back and help, Lopez said.

Sherman said all 80 third-graders get involved in the garden. Students make fruit salads, green salads and salsa from the crops they grow.

“I think it’s great,” Sherman said. “The kids just love it. They get to eat what they plant.”

Some of the plants were donated by Merced College’s horticultural program and parents donate either plants or seeds for the next crop. Lopez plans to save some seeds from this year’s crop for next year.

Lopez said all the plants and vegetables get used and nothing goes to waste. While school is out for the summer, Lopez returns to make sure the garden stays healthy.

Randall Heller, Winton School District superintendent, said the garden seems to get bigger each year. He said district trustees support meaningful programs like the garden and the youngsters will remember the gardening experiences all their lives.

Last May, students served Winton school trustees the green vegetable smoothies during a board meeting. Like their youthful counterparts, board members weren’t sure about the green drinks at first but they quickly became a big hit.