Donations give Modesto garden a start

Onions and carrots soon will be on the menu for special education students in Modesto City Schools' Transitions Program.

On Monday, students, teachers and administrators celebrated the money and supply donations that will make the program's professional garden a reality.

Officials showed three planter boxes, each 5 feet by 25 feet, that students will use to learn about planting, growing and harvesting food. Students will cook and eat the vegetables and fruits they grow.

"The students learn life skills and vocational skills so they will have a better quality of life," said John Blackman, director of the Transitions Program. Students will learn about food and nutrition and will feel the pride that comes from watching their plants grow, he said.

About 65 students are in the program. Many more attend from the district's high schools. The students, ages 18 to 22, have mental and developmental disabilities.

The Transitions Program is in a house near the district office in west Modesto. Students attend school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., take academic classes ad learn how to clean, cook, do research on computers and work with others.

They go on field trips to bowling alleys, movies and libraries and learn how to use the city's public buses.

"Our goal is to give them a connection to real life," Blackman said.

Most students will graduate and continue to live with family members or in assisted-living homes, but some want to be independent and live on their own, he said.

At Monday's groundbreaking, Superintendent Arturo Flores jokingly requested a spot in the garden for serrano chiles. He then thanked business leaders for their donations to support the garden.

"In the current budget crisis, every dollar is important," Flores said.

Bank of America and the California Fertilizer Foundation joined together to donate $1,200 for the project. American Lumber and Sorenson Construction donated the planter boxes, and other businesses have pledged such supplies as soil and plants, Blackman said.

Brothers and state representatives Tom and Bill Berryhill attended the ceremony and emphasized the importance of education and agriculture to the state's economy and future.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339. Read Hatfield's education blog at