In the far southwest corner of the city is the Edible Schoolyard Kern County where students learn about the life cycle of food from seeds to harvest to the table.
It's an inspirational place, said Mezmeray Diaz, an eighth grader at Stiern Middle School. She's one of 13 students from Stiern Middle School who were able to attend Spring Break Camp this week. Each day students spend time in the garden — and then in the kitchen making something delicious to eat with the garden's bounty.
Every day is a wonderful time for a hands-on lesson about where food comes from, and the Edible Schoolyard had been at it for a few years. But this year it was a welcome change of pace for students who have been spending a lot of their time inside and in front of screens with distance learning.
"I'm actually loving it," Diaz said. "Being indoors and then coming outside has been a big breath of fresh air."
The air does feel a little lighter and the sunshine a little sweeter in this Edenic garden at the intersection of Buena Vista Road and Panama Lane. The pace is gentle. A student counts the spots on a ladybug that's landed on a spinach leaf being harvested for today's lunch. Diaz described an assignment where she drew the flowers of spiky cactuses and the ways they twist as they grow.
In previous years, Edible Schoolyard Kern County had a partnership with Buena Vista Elementary School, which is across the street from the garden. It served the school's 940 students. But COVID-19 changed that, explained Dylan Wilson, program manager for Edible Schoolyard Kern County.
In the early days of the pandemic, Edible Schoolyard Kern County donated what it grew from its gardens to the Cal State Bakersfield Food Pantry, Wilson said. But in June, it was able to reopen under the guidance for day camps. Since then, it has brought on 220 students from 28 schools in eight school districts, he said. But it has also charged tuition, which is a different model. It has also solicited community sponsors.
But this week the students of Stiern Middle School were able to come thanks to Morgan Clayton, founder and CEO of Tel-Tec Communications. He attended Fremont Elementary and said he was looking for a way to give back to students in southeast Bakersfield where he came from. He also believes in the mission put forth by the Grimm Family Education Foundation, which operates Edible Schoolyard Kern County.
"Most of us who were raised in Kern County, our roots are the soil," he said. "Having them reconnect with that in a very healthy way, where it connects to their passion and their careers, this honors that."
He said that this program helps the students build, connect and fellowship together. He added that gardening is one of his own passions, as well.
Stiern student Naomi Reyes described the garden as "very peaceful, very calming." She's glad she came for the Spring Break Camp.
"I would have just been staying at home, bored and on my phone," she laughed.
Reyes enjoyed the day where students were taught to make pasta from scratch. Students got fresh eggs from the chickens, cracked them into a bowl of flour and made fresh pasta. It was paired with fresh ingredients from the garden: a pesto of basil, parsley, garlic and olive oil. She said she was surprised how much the experience was selling her on healthy food — one of the camp's goals.
"It's my first time having really healthy food," she said.