Temecula students grow gardens, friendships

Special to The Press-Enterprise – Nov. 13, 2010

Gardening isn't how you would expect typical high school students to spend their Saturday.

But, for members of the Chaparral High School Green Thumb Club, rising early on a weekend to grow produce is their idea of an exciting day.

The Green Thumbs are 21 students who meet each Wednesday during lunch at the Temecula school to discuss and plan their latest agricultural goals.

Students from Chaparral High School in Temecula work at Rose Haven Heritage Garden. So far, the club has planted tomatoes, beets, potatoes, carrots and pumpkins.

The latest topic has been how to further develop a 7,200-square-foot plot of land at Rose Haven Heritage Garden to grow enough quality produce to donate to local food pantries.

The Green Thumbs have been meeting since the fall semester began in September, but the idea to form the club started the previous summer, said Carlye Himaya, a 16-year-old Temecula resident and club president.

Carlye was involved with his school's Culinary Club, which over the summer planted produce and herbs at the Rose Haven Heritage Garden to use as ingredients for the dishes they would create.

Carlye was so surprised to find himself enjoying gardening that he proposed forming a club that would continue the work throughout the school year. He invited his close friends to join and they were excited at the opportunity to spend Saturdays learning a new skill and building deeper friendships.

"This club helped me to gain an obligation," Green Thumb member and Chaparral junior Kevin Cantero said. "It makes me feel needed and important, and it helps me to grow my friendships."

Instructors also are noticing the club's positive impact on students' lives. Teresa Childs, the club's teacher adviser, said the students are learning life skills through gardening.

"I've seen the group grow through the months and it's amazing," Childs said. "The students' dedication to community involvement and to spend their Saturdays working hard to grow enough food to donate to food pantries astounds me."

Any student can join the club, and it counts toward community service hours. But students' interest in gardening extends past academic credits.

Junior Jomari Ocampo, 17, said the club has helped him change his idea of fun and community involvement.

"When I was first invited to join the Green Thumbs I didn't expect it to be this way," Jomari said. "Now I'm doing something to help out my community and I'm actually having fun doing it."

Reach Tiffany Austin-Suniga at tiffany.austin@rocketmail.com