PUC and Calistoga School Build Community Connection Through Gardening

By Laura Gang on September 26, 2022

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Gardening alongside students from a nearby school is how a professor and her students are helping in the broader community and fulfilling Pacific Union College’s mission to serve with love.

A biology class and an organic gardening class helped Calistoga Junior/Senior High School with their campus gardening projects. 

Aimee Wyrick, associate biology professor, taught two classes about natural history and gardening this past school year. She said students learned about wildlife conservation and practical skills. “In our modern age, being able to grow your own food and provide native habitat has never been more important,” she said. 

Wyrick is always looking for ways for her students to have real-life experiences, particularly in serving the local community. 

Making connections in the community is also one of the goals of The UpValley Blue Zone Project, an organization that aims to help communities improve their overall health and well-being and boost longevity. One of the efforts of the UpValley area organization – The Blue Zone Project has 17 branches nationwide – includes increasing the availability of local and healthy food.

Fabio Maia, the former UpValley Blue Zone Project organizational lead, has close ties to PUC and many other schools and organizations in Napa Valley. Wyrick credits Maia for connecting her with CJSHS teacher Jeremy Grove. “We are like-minded,” she said, “in our passion for conservation.” 

Grove, who has been at CJSHS for 11 years, teaches a class on organic gardening. He said his class “focuses on sustainable gardening practices,” starting with soil health and ending with produce and flowers. Students work in the fruit and vegetable garden, vineyard, and orchard -- all on the high school’s campus. A native flower garden has also been planted and tended to, Grove said, as “part of the conservation and sustainability focus of the class.” 

Wyrick classes visited the CJSHS campus twice in May. First, 12 students from PUC Biological Foundations worked on a native flower garden there. They planted seeds and plants. High school students weren’t involved in this outing, but the PUC class helped their garden to flourish. 

For the second trip, PUC vegetable organic gardening students worked with the high school students to weed, clear, and plant seeds in several garden areas on their campus. Grove said they also helped to maintain the orchard and vineyard.

Approximately 15 Calistoga high school students were involved. “My kids [were] highly motivated by the college students,” Grove said. “They like working with them and work hard to impress them. It’s a fun collaboration.” 

PUC students also enjoyed the experience. “Working with the students at CJSHS was awesome!” said Lisa Bolton, a senior biology major. “The students were very sweet, helpful, and had a willingness to learn.”. 

One of the most memorable parts of the class, Bolton said, was when a high school student showed her how to lay irrigation. “It was great that the student was able to teach me something too,” she said.

Wyrick and Grove are proud of this successful collaboration and are already making plans for the new school year. Plans include CJSHS students coming up to help with gardening projects on the PUC campus. Wyrick is happy to see the college getting involved with the local community. 

“PUC is a resource to the community and sometimes people forget that,” Wyrick said. “It’s fun meeting new people and getting our PUC students off campus.”