DEL MAR – As the coastal fog gave way to summer sunshine on the morning of June 15, at the San Diego County Fair’s Infield Farm, it was difficult to determine who was more excited: Don Diego Scholarship Foundation’s Plant*Grow*Eat (PGE) donors, including Master Gardeners Sue Temple and Frances Spath serving as judges, who awaited busloads of elementary students from Title 1 schools; or the kids themselves, who, accompanied by teachers and chaperones, bounded off buses with their lovingly nurtured radishes, nasturtiums and other edibles on proud display.
After a two-year, pandemic-caused hiatus, the Fair’s Plant*Grow*Eat program, which teaches youngsters about agriculture and nutrition from the ground up, was back in full bloom. Making the experience possible, meaningful and memorable were individuals and organizations that, combined, donated thousands of dollars to Don Diego to fund buses for hundreds of school children that otherwise could not have participated.
“We love this program!” said Joe Guerra, Zelda Helewa and Steve Gardella, representing longtime Plant*Grow*Eat bus sponsor, Del Mar Kiwanis. They related, “Our mission is all about improving the lives of kids, one child and one community at a time. Del Mar is our community and these kids, who today came from Davila Elementary in Chula Vista and Anza Elementary in El Cajon, are our kids. We love being able to give not only money, but our time when we come here and interact with the children.”
Another community-minded Plant*Grow*Eat bus donor, the Del Mar Foundation, which donated $5,000 in 2022, had members on hand to meet the children and heap praise upon their produce as they entered the Farm. President Betty Wheeler, accompanied by Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden, Hylton Lonstein, Tom Neuman and Eileen Kelley, noted, “This program promotes a wonderful opportunity for children – especially those who live in urban apartments without yards — to learn at an early, impressionable age where their food comes from and how to grow it. We are happy to support it.”
Educators and parents are happy they do. One teacher said, “Our students have been tending to their radishes as if they were precious little babies. They’ve been so excited to watch them grow and now to be here doing things they’ve never done before: ride a bus, receive a ribbon for their veggies, explore the Fair, and meet farm animals.”
Students presented Don Diego sponsors and staff with colorful thank-you cards, including one showing a happy sun, an energetic school bus and a smiling Fair entrance. It read: “Thank you for the bus and for taking us to the Fair!”
Don Diego Executive Director Ashley Colburn McCaughan states, “We thank the teachers who helped their students learn about the challenges and rewards of growing their own produce from seed. We thank the students who dove into their projects with enthusiasm. Most of all, we thank our donors, who made Plant*Grow* Eat come alive for children who, due to school finances, might otherwise not have had the joy of taking a bus to the Fair and perhaps even seeing the ocean for the very first time!”
The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as the Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947-1984. Since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded $1,276,844 in scholarships to 362 students and in agriculture education grants. More information is at dondiegoscholarship.org and facebook.com/DonDiegoScholarship.