Worms, kids, seeds, seniors nurture garden at Marin JCC

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Leftover snacks, melon rinds and apple cores get a new lease on life inside two Rubbermaid compost bins at Marin Jewish Community Center's Swig Field, where an intergenerational garden project is underway.

Worms, on loan from Francia Stanton of San Anselmo's Earthly Delights, digest their share of garbage and then produce rich, organic soil.

"It's the greatest gift I could possibly receive," said camp naturalist Corey Lott.

Students have a tough time visualizing the benefits of the compost piles, said Lott, who teaches gardening to 1,100 kids. Yet in two days, the youngsters could see the worms turning their food into soil.

It's a lesson about life-cycles. "When you die, you turn into soil," she said.

Linking the environment with natural and Jewish calendar life-cycles was one of the goals of MJCC group services director Deborah Burg-Schnirman when she applied for a grant from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to grow our own gourds, cornstalks and sunflowers to decorate a sukkah?" she asked. In addition, winter-camp kids could plant parsley and horseradish in December for Pesach in the spring.

The MJCC got the $750 grant last spring, one month before Passover. With total garden costs of over $1,500, summer-camp tuition covers the rest of the bill.

"Most of the organizations and people involved donated their time or discounted materials," said Burg-Schnirman.

The 400-square-foot garden is comprised of three triangular raised beds and two rectangular beds made of pressure-treated wood, built to withstand the weather for some 40 to 50 years. San Rafael's Golden State Lumber Company supplied the boards at a discount.

During the first week of August, about a dozen teenage counselors-in-training constructed the beds, which were designed by U.C. Berkeley architecture student Gen Urban, who donated 40 hours of her time.

Wielding wheelbarrows, youthful workers dumped in the soil, trucked to Marin from San Rafael's American Soil Products.

Earth-moving was an adventure for the youngsters, who, according to Lott, pretended they were digging for gold during the California Gold Rush.

The young gardeners planted marigold and impatiens starters and peas, as well as kale and cabbage seeds contributed by Shepherd's Garden Seeds in Felton.

Burg-Schnirman said the vegetables are sprouting in four flats inside classroom windows.

During the planning stages, Lott helped the kids select various species known to thrive in Marin. The youngsters "sat outside in the shade with gardening books," making their selections.

Once the garden is well established and summer camp is over, community members are slated to take over maintenance tasks.

Middle-school students participating in the science program at San Rafael's Brandeis Hillel Day School plan to weed and water during the school year under the direction of teacher Sue Holland, said school secretary Kay Johnson.

And Kimberly Johnson, who heads Brandeis' after-school program, hopes to involve her students.

Members of San Rafael's Congregation Rodef Sholom will apply their green thumbs to the garden during the synagogue's charitable Mitzvah Day, an annual event that will take place on Oct. 29. "We're asking participants to bring some vegetables to plant," said Joan Gosliner, one of the event's three co-chairs.

Several elderly MJCC members live next door to Rodef Sholom at Parnow House. These seniors will groom and fertilize the flora. The bed is 2-1/2 feet high, providing easier access for older folks.

Burg-Schnirman said Parnow House seniors also will get some of the garden's vegetables to eat — one of many fringe benefits this multigenerational project is bound to yield.