Cambrian: Opinion

Coast Union garden grows from grant, supplies cafeteria food

Wooden planters at the Coast Union garden are lined up alongside batting cages for the baseball field.
Wooden planters at the Coast Union garden are lined up alongside batting cages for the baseball field.

Coast Union’s agriculture program was narrowly spared getting gutted at the most recent School Board meeting. With well over half of the student population involved in FFA or related subjects, an enormous sigh was heard over much of Cambria. One has only to walk around the backside of the campus to get a glimpse of what goes on in this field of study with raised vegetable beds, stock animals and welding projects. And what about that garden?

My friend, Cindy Gustafson, wrote me about the latest grant from the Central Coast Funds for Children. This is the third year receiving funds that buy things like worm castings, compost, portable greenhouses and more. ( These folks monetarily assist groups such as children’s museums, theater groups, Special Olympics, safe and sober grad nights and more. In 1994, “CCFC was established to benefit children in need of special services in San Luis Obispo County,” the organization’s website says.

“We are publicly supported, nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization. All donations stay in our county to help local children.

“CCFC has no paid staff. All activities are run by CCFC volunteer membership. Less than 6 percent of the income raised goes to expenses. Funds are raised through private and business donations, dues and special fundraising events. Funds are granted to local nonprofit organizations through a grant application process.”

I noticed our own Linn’s and Sea Chest on the list of supporters!

What has Coast Unified School District done with its grants received and why? My friend has worked in the district in the cafeteria for about 25 years and has seen the food program go up and downhill. As a mother herself, she is well aware of the need for good food. This grant is used toward getting classes to grow their own food, which is then served in our own dining hall.

Flowers grow in the Coast Unified garden. Dianne Brooke

“In my opinion, the biggest challenge is serving truly healthy food,” she said. “A few years back, we went to almost a fast-food system, preparing heat-and-serve food on paper trays. We do have a salad bar, so that is where the garden comes in. It is a baby step. Last year’s food service supervisor succeeded in obtaining a grant to implement ‘One Cool Earth’ at the grammar school. The students have a bountiful growing area and are tasting the fruits of their efforts — all organic!

“At the high school, we harvest and serve from our garden. It is fresh, flavorful and free from pesticides. And believe me, the kids notice when I can convince them to try a vegetable that they think they don’t like, because food from mass-produced fields does taste different than organically, locally produced food. It’s a quality-vs.-quantity issue. We are closing the loop, as well, by recycling our food waste to the FFA animals during their growing season. It’s so great to have our Ag Department getting revitalized!

“My vision is to create a cooperative system from grammar school to the high school. By the time our current students at the grammar school reach the high school, they will already have the basic growing skills, so we may foster new ideas through those students. There are schools out there that actually are able to pay their students a wage! This project doesn’t alleviate anything in the cafeteria. I volunteer most of my time, and the others involved are students, teachers and employees that also volunteer added hours. So, patience is a virtue!”

And indeed it is. Plant that seed of good health and watch it grow!

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at