SPHS Garden Sprouting with Success!

A history of the SOAR Garden and the big plans going forward


Photo credit: Neilana Corrales

Neilana Corrales, Staff Writer

The SOAR Garden, outside of room 401, is well underway, and the SOAR gardeners expect it to be finished by next month.

“I thought it was going to take years to build a garden; I can’t believe how far we get every day,” says Katherine Van Der Linden, the head of the Gardening Club and teacher at San Pasqual High School. 

The SOAR gardeners meet after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to finish planting the winter plants and installing the garden’s planter boxes, solar lighting, irrigation, etc… Besides this, the gardeners are also reviving the butterfly habitat. After putting in the milkweed, which attracts butterflies, the hope is that, by Spring, there will be butterflies flying around in the habitat. That way students will be able to sit and enjoy the garden while butterflies surround them. According to Van Der Linden, the SOAR gardeners are working to make sure that the SOAR garden will continue and that they will be able to grow their own healthy produce.

I’m just amazed that it’s all coming together so easily and, and fluently,” expresses Van Der Linden.

After the SOAR gardeners finish building, Van Der Linden plans to turn it into an aquaponic garden where the plants and fish are dependent on each other in one continuous cycle. The plan is to add a fish pond within the garden so that the pond water can irrigate the plants itself. Further, when the fish’s waste goes into the water, the fish feces-filled water fertilizes the plants. Finally, the plants, in turn, cleans the fish’s water.  

Humble Beginnings: How it all started

“The whole beginning of this gardening [club] was started with the… butterfly habitat,” says Van Der Linden.

Initially, the SOAR Garden was near the San Pasqual art teacher’s, Ted Whirledge, classroom. Because there wasn’t any water near Whirledge’s classroom, the garden was moved next to the student parking lot. However, this year, the student parking lot is being turned into a student drop-off/pick-up zone. So, Cory Gregory, San Pasqual High School’s principal, told Van Der Linden that she will be head of gardening and that the garden will be moved in front of her classroom. 

“And I walked out of his office going, okay, how am I going to do this?” explains Van Der Linden. “I don’t have students. I don’t have money. I don’t have anybody to help me. I’m supposed to build a whole garden. And I was very confused. And the next day the gardeners came and cut all the plants down in front of my room.” The SOAR Garden was actually going to happen.

Van Der Linden emphasizes that many hands went into making this garden possible. First, she asked the woodshop teacher, Brandon Tarrac, to help her build the fence around the garden; he agreed. She had to contact their head of maintenance to get water and a master gardener, Lacey Moretti, to help plan the garden. Other teachers at San Pasqual High School also have contributed. Matthew Spencer, a teacher at San Pasqual High School, has helped to put in irrigation, and Tracey Greer, head of the SOAR program, has helped fund the project.

“And it’s been a lot of money,” says Van Der Linden. “… Probably over $3000 so far, and I’m not done.”

Even the cafeteria chips in by collecting cardboard to put at the bottom of the planter beds. This is important because the combination of cardboard, straw, and soil produces microbes which makes the soil fertile and stimulates plant growth.

“Every time somebody walks by… and they jump in, [they’ve] got something that I needed,” Van Der Linden continues. “It’s just crazy… it was meant to be, this is meant to be… it’s falling into place.”

Student Gardeners: The jobs, the benefits and the opinions

There are multiple jobs one can choose from when helping out in the SOAR garden. Students who prefer working indoors can help out with art projects such as making the garden’s eagle sign or planting in the fume hood. However, most students work outside building planter boxes, staining wood, installing irrigation, or planting different herbs, vegetables, flowers, etc… Essentially, there is a job for everyone, even those who have no idea how to build a garden.

“Honestly, I don’t think you need a lot of skills,” comments Yolanda Ruby Cortez, a student at San Pasqual High School who’s in charge of painting the eagle sign for the SOAR Garden.

Not only does the SOAR Garden club seek to give students more knowledge on how to make and maintain a garden, but also teach students how to eat healthy by using nutritious, natural products. Further, students have gotten up to more than 20 hours of community service just coming after school to help out. Overall, Van Der Linden emphasizes that the main thing is about feeling school pride, being involved, meeting new people, and leaving a legacy that future students may enjoy and remember.

“Once I… graduate… that [garden] is still going to be there,” adds Cortez. “My name is going to be on it.” Everybody involved will be remembered through their work towards this garden.

The SOAR gardeners are also looking forward to the grand opening which might include a ceremony/celebration of some kind, cider, or a pizza party to mark the completion of the garden, according to Katherine Van Der Linden and Ruby Cortez.

“I’m just hoping everybody comes out and enjoys the garden and takes care of it,” describes Van Der Linden. “Come out, walk around in it… surround yourself with butterflies. That’s my dream.” 

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