LE GRAND -- Monica Bianchi calls it a miracle garden.
She's talking about the Le Grand Community Garden, a cooperative effort involving Le Grand and Granada high school students, local farms, United Way and the Building Healthy Communities endowment.
Bianchi, who teaches agricultural biology and horticulture at Le Grand High, said students have been picking produce for the past three months to sell at the Le Grand Farmers Market on Cook Street from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through September.
"Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., you can find students picking berries, tomatoes, tomatillos, okra and peppers at the miracle garden on Cook Street," Bianchi said. "How appropriate that we should have a garden on Cook Street, as most of our fruits and vegetables soon get cooked and eaten by local community members.
"It is all a dream come true and for the naysayers who had no vision; some now have sight for what our community can do. When you work with teams of teenagers, miracles sometimes take a while to happen," Bianchi said.
The community garden covers 2½ acres. In its first year, the garden is part of a five-year land lease from Bible Christian Church of Le Grand. Granada High School in Planada is starting a five-acre pumpkin patch.
Giovanni Marquez, 16, is a senior at Le Grand High and one of two field managers of the garden. He's in charge of orchard management. His involvement is part of an FFA project, and he watches over rows of white peaches, yellow peaches and plums.
"It's been a good experience," Giovanni said. "Before this, I didn't know about the different types of vegetables and produce."
Giovanni plans to go to Modesto Junior College next year and major in animal science.
Sergio Gomez, 14, is the other field manager. A sophomore at Le Grand High, Sergio is in charge of vegetable crops.
"It's fun; it's relaxing out there even though it's hot," he said. Bell peppers, teardrop tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, okra, raspberries, chili peppers, boysenberries and tangerines are grown. Asparagus and artichokes will come later.
Bianchi said that after the produce is picked, it is put into baskets and refrigerated in a new truck purchased with community donations and the help of United Way.
"Teamwork is the name of the game," Bianchi said. "Without the support of Building Healthy Communities and local donors, none of this would be possible. The Le Grand garden still has room for dozens of families to come and plant."
Bianchi said winter crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and artichokes will be planted. She said money raised goes to cover seed, fuel and water costs.
"It all begins with a dream and then it requires hard work and the pursuit of partnerships in the community," Bianchi said. "The gardens at Le Grand and Granada became a reality with the help of Live Oak Farms and J. Marchini Farms for their loan of tractors and men for land preparation, and for their donations of irrigation and packaging supplies.
"We are privileged to live in an agricultural community where neighbors and businessmen can come together to share their goods and services for the betterment of a community."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.