Mendocino, CA 95460

The Organic Lunch Lady of Little Lake Road

By Andrew Scully

The Mendocino Undercurrent

March 23, 2023

On her first day as the new cafeteria assistant with the Mendocino Unified School District, Diane Price attended a staff meeting where she heard a welcome address by Ken Matheson, the superintendent, now long since retired and after whom a building on the campus has been named. On that fall day in 1987, this legendary man boomed out the following commandment to the staff assembled in front of him: “We are here for the children!” That is a mission statement and a message that Diane Price evidently took to heart. More than that, over a 32 year career she has put those words into practice, preparing and growing wholesome food for the entire Mendocino School District.

Instead of endlessly opening cans of peas and corn and tuna fish, more than 20 years ago Diane began growing organic vegetables in a small garden she staked out next to a classroom on the K-8 campus on Little Lake Road in Mendocino. She used those vegetables to supplement and add nourishment to the meals she prepared each day for kids throughout the District.

Now, two decades after she began her little garden, Diane oversees a considerable organic farming operation at the Mendocino K-8 School, with more than 15 sturdy raised garden beds where she produces literally thousands of pounds of fresh food each year – all of it organic. All of this food goes directly into the Mendocino School District breakfast and lunch program. All of the food is grown by Diane and the kids that take her gardening classes as electives. She does all of this garden work on her own time. For the children.

Diane’s gardening activities at the school were relatively small-time for the first few years, but literally got off the ground when a local woman (Alysoun Huntley Ford) died in 2000 and left a modest bequest to the school district to improve the children’s nutrition program. Instead of burning through that gift on high-end frozen pizza for a couple of months, Diane used the money to improve and fence the garden area, and built the first two raised garden beds at the site. She also purchased tools and seeds.

At first, the new garden and her work was a bit of a curiosity, but by the second year with the raised beds, Diane had attracted the attention of the teachers (the kids were already interested) and she began working with the certificated staff to establish an elective garden education program for the school children. So in addition to establishing the garden, she also is the primary Garden Educator at the K-8 School, currently working with Grade Four and Five students. And of course then there is her full time job, managing and cooking food for the entire Mendocino School District and it’s four different locations:

The K-8 School on Little Lake Road

The High School on Ford Street

The Albion School

The Comptche School

Diane Price and one co-worker, Tricia Evans (with 26 years of service to Mendocino Schools) prepare all three meals (breakfast, lunch and snack) for the four different school sites every day. That’s 500 meals a day. Diane calls Tricia Evans “My right arm and friend since high school. She makes our famous low-fat ranch dressing. It’s famous all around! Just ask anybody.”

Diane Price (left) and her Garden Helper Joyce Roudio get their hands dirty after school preparing plant seedlings for the 8th Annual Mendo K-8 Plant Sale

With the fifteen raised beds, and the 4th and 5th graders, her stalwart Garden Volunteer Joyce Roudio and her grandson Kayden, Diane Price produces a very significant proportion of the food consumed by students and staff in the District. All of it organic. And all of it fresh. Consider:

200 lbs Carrots

60 heads Cabbage

Four months production Fresh Lettuce

50 Gallons Strawberries

30 Gallons Blackberries

The Upper berry garden in full bloom, with golden and red raspberries,blackberries,boysenberries lemon trees,and a greenhouse,where cucumbers,tomatoes and hot peppers are started from seed.
The Upper Garden in midsummer bloom: golden and red raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, lemon trees; greenhouse is used to start cucumbers, tomatoes and hot peppers from seed.

30 Gallons Raspberries

15 gallons each Boysenberries and Blackberries

The benefit derived to the kids of this fresh organic addition to their meals over all this time is incalculable. But if somehow there was a way to measure devotion, quantify it and look at it l, it might very well look like the raised garden beds at the K-8 School in Mendocino.

Diane Price does all of her gardening work at the school “on the side”. You see, she receives no wage for the garden work. Her only salary is as the Cafeteria Supervisor for the Mendocino School District. All the food in the garden has been grown on remarkably little money, really just the initial Healthy Kids bequest, a shoestring budget and a ton of volunteer time and materials. All of her work in the garden and with the kids is out of love. For the Children.

Diane holds a fund raiser once a year – it’s a Plant Sale, and this year’s sale- the 8th Annual Mendocino K-8 School Plant Sale – will be held on Friday April 7 from 3 to 6 pm. That’s one day only, three hours to get a smashing hot deal on organic plants for your spring garden . Diane said this year’s offerings will include:

  • Berries ( strawberries, golden raspberries, and boysenberries),
  • Vegetables (lettuce, cucumbers, squash, watermelons, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and more
A multitude of boysenberries, raspberries and other plants are ready for the Plant Sale

Financial goal for the plant sale is to raise enough to build permanent wooden planters and plant boxes in the Upper Greenhouse.


The 8th Annual Organic Plant Sale and Faire

to benefit

Mendocino K-8 School Organic Garden Program

Friday April 7th

Three o’clock to six o’clock

The pleasure of your company is cordially requested


Andrew Scully
Andrew Scully
Articles: 25

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