Mendocino, CA 95460
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.”
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
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
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
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