A few years back at John Muir High School in Pasadena, a deteriorating row of temporary buildings that had far outlasted their expiration date were torn down and a barren patch was left on the otherwise grassy and tree-shaded campus just west of the new science building. Pasadena Unified School District had plans to erect a Career Technical Education building on the site, but the school site council had other ideas.
“The site coordinator and site council said no,” Shirley Barrett, PUSD Facilities and Grounds Coordinator, told Examiner. “She came to me and said, ‘What do you think about an outdoor science classroom?’” And that’s how Muir Ranch, a garden that sells produce and flowers to subscribers and at local outlets, was created in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Tournament of Roses partnered with Scotts Miracle-Gro as the presenting sponsor of the post-parade Showcase of Floats event and the “Official Rose and Flower Care Partner” in 2012. With an emphasis on community involvement, the company sought out gardens and green areas in Pasadena in need of a little extra care. The parties came together last Monday to cultivate the garden, harvest produce, and provide Thanksgiving bags for 100 families from PUSD’s Families in Transition program, which assists in the transition from homelessness or group homes.
Su Lok, Director, Corporate and Community Partnerships for Scotts Miracle-Gro, said she has been “really impressed” with Muir Ranch. “It teaches kids about fresh produce, business, and community supported agriculture,” she said. The company has provided a $25,000 grant and product donations to Muir Ranch to upgrade the pollinator gardens and to provide the turkeys that were included in the bags of produce.
More than 30 Scotts volunteers from the Pasadena area turned out to help with the project. Lok said, “You’ll find for all our volunteer programs, we want to get local associates involved in the community. Our associates can provide technical resources and help to get answers to questions the school might have about gardening best practices…. As we look at what we’re doing in each of our communities, it’s inspiring for us to be connected.”
After putting in extensive plantings at three Pasadena parks and beautifying the grounds around community center El Centro de Accion Social in 2013, Miracle-Gro was talking with the City of Pasadena about doing another project. “Muir Ranch kept coming up,” she said. “Pollinator gardens and the wildlife habitat this garden attracts are really important.” It teaches students how their food grows and what’s healthy, and helps grow a new generation of gardeners.
Lok said, “The grant is part of GRO1000, our commitment to supporting 1,000 gardens and green spaces in Canada, US, and Europe by 2018, when we celebrate our 150th anniversary. ‘Give Back to Grow’ is part of our company philanthropy mission.” Giving back includes gardening, but can also be other types of community service, such as reading to kids or assisting food pantries.
Mud Baron, Project Director for Muir Ranch, spoke with us as he strolled the rows, creating a bouquet in the French manner of “roam and cut.” He said there are 40 or 50 Muir students who work in the garden, and he’s trying to get PUSD to have classes related to the Ranch. Barrett noted that money comes back to Muir Ranch through floral arrangements sold at Pasadena Farmers Market and produce sold at Arroyo Food Coop, as well as the subscription program.
Two of the students involved in Muir Ranch, sophomore Jasmin Guzman and junior Adolfo Mendez, spoke with Examiner about John Muir High School and the Ranch.
“I like it. I like Muir,” Mendez, who comes from a family of gardeners and is in his third year with the Ranch, said. Mendez participates in the Pasadena Police Department Explorer program and plans on going to Ultimate Fighting Championships or joining SWAT after high school. “You have to do Explorers first,” he said.
Guzman, who has worked at the Ranch for two months, responded that she likes the teachers a Muir and that they “really bond with the kids.” She said, “It really has a bad rep, but I don’t see it.” After high school, she plans on attending college and perhaps doing a summer abroad. She’s considering University of California at Davis for its veterinary school, but is still looking. The Ranch is a way for her to work and earn money. “I really wanted a job to help me get in motion of what it’s like to have a real job,” she said.
After finishing the morning’s work and before the families drove up to receive their bags, all the volunteers were treated to a lunch of Muir Ranch produce and roast pig provided by the chef of Pasadena’s Kings Row Gastropub. Tournament of Roses Pres. Richard Chinen and Mayor Bill Bogaard welcomed the volunteers.
What started as four rows in a neglected corner of the campus has, under the tutelage of Mud Baron and former science teacher, master gardener and Muir alumna Doss Jones, grown to a productive farm that provides jobs for students, food and beauty for the city, meals for families in difficulty, and got the notice of a multi-national corporation.
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