What’s in an SF School Garden? ‘Fairy Soup,’ Peppers and Lead


Sugar, food coloring, glitter, and other glitter. A kindergartener turns it into “fairy soup” to lure magical visitors to the school garden.

They also created seashell watering holes for bees, nibbled on freshly picked bell peppers, and created their own in this Wild by Design garden, which has been used for lessons and activities at the Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School since 2011. are planting the seeds of

But a poisonous discovery brought it all to a halt.

Mission District schools closed their courtyards earlier this month after the San Francisco Unified School District found “unacceptable” levels of lead and arsenic in the garden’s soil. Protests from staff and students prompted the district to test the water, and by Tuesday lead had already been detected “exceeding acceptable levels” in three fountains.

“Before I got lead poisoning, it was really fun,” said Jeffrey Stino, the school’s gardening teacher.

The Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School zoned its courtyard after high levels of lead and arsenic were detected in the garden soil. | | Courtesy Nicholas Chandler

The school changed overnight due to the closure of the courtyard. Staff changed evacuation plans and brought makeshift gardening classes indoors, losing about half the outdoor space where children could vent their stress.

The garden was busy all day before the lead forced it to close, school officials told The Standard. Along with other trees, it grows in lead-contaminated soil. Raised beds primarily grow tomatoes, but also raspberries, blackberries, mulberry, chard, kale, and mustard greens.

Students also have a keen interest in wildlife around the garden, such as hawks that prey on rodents and gophers. At one point, a hawk snatched a pigeon out of the air and his 7-year-old, whom Stino was walking by, let out a horror-movie scream.

“Children learn a lot in the garden,” Stino said, saying some students think he lives there. “Urban children don’t get many of the therapeutic benefits of playing in the mud. It’s also stimulating the imagination.”

Now the children are worried that the garden has become sick.

“They are completely heartbroken,” said Nick Chandler, coordinator of BVHM Community Schools. This is not something they should keep in mind.”

Additional lead testing is in progress.

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The Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School garden was well-loved and well-used, but was closed after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil, limiting outdoor space. | | Courtesy Jeffrey Stino

Community members are also calling on authorities to provide mobile medical testing for students. A pandemic-born Mission Coalition Latino task force will soon offer testing, according to Jennifer Ferrigno, legislative assistant to Superintendent Hilary Ronen.

In January, Mission District schools may reclaim their yards.

The school board this week gave the green light to a no-bid contract for emergency excavation so that schools could replace the soil during winter break, weather permitting.

A freshman called the meeting to tell a board member that he “didn’t like the poison in the water” and that the garden was closed.

“The garden is my favourite.” 1st grader repeated 4 times“There are so many things to see. There are animals out there for us to see. I want bad soil…bad little things in the soil.” [to] Please go outside to play in the garden. ”


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