NACO, SONORA — Twenty-nine sixth graders received their diplomas Tuesday afternoon.

The certificate they were given wasn’t for their completion of primary school — they get that on Wednesday. Rather, the recognition was for their participation in the creation and maintenance of the school’s new garden.

In December, the group of sixth graders began work on a garden for Escuela Primaria Prof. Gabriel Valdez Villa. The schoolyard garden spans roughly half an acre and was brought to life with the help of the Naco Wellness Initiative in order to teach the students the entire process of how fresh produce makes its way to the dinner table.

Naco Wellness Initiative’s Niño Garden Projects has allowed hundreds of students across Naco, Sonora, Mexico to learn about all phases of gardening: soil preparation, planting, seeding, maintenance, harvesting and preserving.

Lupita Sanchez, director of Casa Saludables from Naco Wellness Initiative, said the goal of the Niño Garden Projects is to teach and show why people, including themselves, receive more nutrition from fresh produce.

Lilian Corella, a sixth grade teacher at Gabriel Valdez Villa Primary School, served as the leader of the gardening club. She said the students built the now flourishing vegetable garden from scratch, as the plot of land was previously filled with rocks and unsuitable for a garden.

“It’s important (for them to know how to garden) because of the region,” Corella said. “Here, there’s not a lot of supermarkets, but there’s good weather and sun. Also, some of the families can’t really afford to buy the fresh produce.”

Luis Angel and his peers first started preparing the land for the garden last November by removing rocks, making the rows for the plants, learning how to properly take care of the plants and watering them with a drip irrigation system.

Angel, 12, and Leylani Gonzalez, 11, agree that cleaning the land was the best part of their experience.

“I liked cleaning the ground because I like working outside and fixing everything,” Angel said.

Learning how the watering system works intrigued him most, as it was something new for him. Gonzalez liked the outside work for a different reason.

“I like that I can get dirty while working because it’s fun,” she said.

The gardening didn’t just happen outside. Corella said the students planted the seeds in egg cartons and when they grew a little and the ground was ready, they moved their plants from the egg carton to their new home.

The plot contains a wide rage of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, onions, beets, green beans, corn, spinach, zucchini, squash, radish, watermelon, cantaloupe, cilantro, tomatillos and many others.

Some of the produce harvested was used in the school’s kitchen for lunches and other occasions. Other times, students will take home what they harvested to share with their families.

“They enjoy a lot of the work,” Sanchez said. “They enjoy seeing the plant grow from the seed.”

In fact that’s what Gonzalez said she’ll remember most from participating in garden club.

“If you make an effort to do the small things, you can turn them into big things,” she said.

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