3/8/17

Del Mar, CA …

What is bigger – a fat, red radish lovingly tended from a tiny seedling that is now as large as a tomato – or the bright eyes of the young gardener accepting a ribbon for growing this delicious masterpiece of nature?

The San Diego County Fair’s Plant*Grow*Eat program teaches elementary school students about the connection between agriculture and nutrition. After planting their seeds, watering and weeding their plants, plucking out pesky bugs and watching their garden grow, even kindergarteners now understand where their food comes from.

On designated mornings during the Fair, classrooms of students descend from buses, accompanied by teachers and parents. Laden with lettuces, radishes, beets, nasturtiums and other edibles, they enter the Fairgrounds through a special gate and march merrily to the infield where enthusiastic judges await. Not every entry will capture first place, but each child happily receives a participation ribbon, tastes the fruits and veggies of their labor, then sets off to explore the agriculture areas and to see and touch farm animals as they enjoy a glimpse of the ocean; for some, their first.

Last year, the Don Diego Scholarship Foundation, thanks to the generosity of donors, sponsored 73 buses (typically, $300 per bus) that enabled students from low-income schools to participate in Plant*Grow*Eat. Bus sponsors receive publicity, bus signage, an opportunity to meet and accompany the sponsored students to the judging area, and, if they wish, they can even serve as a judge.

Teachers, parents and judges love the program. In 2016, Nye Elementary participated for the first time. The school plans to make it an annual tradition, if it can obtain a sponsored bus. Taraysa and Tre Morrow related, “Our son Tremier became so excited doing Plant*Grow*Eat that he and his grandmother started a home garden with onions, tomatoes and other crops.” Hortensia Trejo, who has been a judge since the program’s inception several years ago, noted, “I say something encouraging to every youngster. Being around their smiling faces makes my day.”

But no one enjoys the growth experience more than the young gardeners. Asked to reveal the secret of their first-place lettuce medley, 2016 winners Arturo and Emily confided, “Extra water. When our plants looked dry, we gave them a little more.”

If you’d like to “give a little more” to a program that celebrates the rich agricultural history of our region and keeps it flourishing for future generations, please visit dondiegoscholarship.org.

The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as the Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947-1984. To date since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded approximately $797,000 in scholarships to 177 students and in agriculture education grants. Information on Don Diego’s history and the Foundation’s current programs and donation opportunities is at dondiegoscholarship.org and facebook.com/DonDiegoScholarship.