Biodiversity at Santiago High’s Cav Garden

The Cav Garden, located at Santiago High School in Garden Grove, California, has an overarching goal of connecting students to food and nature so they become lifelong stewards of their health and the environment. The garden, which incorporates ecological practices that center on soil and plant health, fosters a respect for sustainability and balance of material and energy that are critical for our natural world to function.

The students of Santiago High are citizens who value and advocate for environmental health. They learn where real food comes from and gain the skills to produce and prepare it themselves, giving them agency over their choices in the future and changing the trajectory of health for their community. In the garden, students are able to care for nature so that, in return, it can nurture them.

Biodiversity at the Cav Garden

The Cav Garden is a 2,000-square foot garden. Of this, 192 square feet of raised bed planter space is currently used for annual vegetables. As winners of a 2022 Budding Botanist Grant, the Cav Garden is using their award funding to develop the remaining 1,800 square feet. The expansion centers on ecological gardening principles and consistent harvests of edible produce from trees and perennial plants, year after year. The design is focused entirely on environmental sustainability and biodiversity that builds the soil by increasing organic material and biological activity.

Student leaders Desiree De La Riva and Ivan Felix share about the importance of biodiversity in the Cav Garden.

The Cav Garden operates based on the following principles: disturb the soil as little as possible; keep the soil covered with liberal applications of compost and mulch; and keep the space planted with trees, perennials, vines, and annuals.

Ecological gardening harnesses natural systems rather than working against them. The Cav Garden implements practices such as building soil through mulching and no-till techniques, improving water retention in soils by increasing organic matter, utilizing nutrient loops by composting, and planting species that fix nitrogen and generate biomass.

Cav Garden Schematic

Below are some simple ecological gardening tips from Cav:
To add nitrogen to the soil: Plant nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes in early spring and fall.
To add other nutrients to the soil: Plant deep-rooted plants like comfrey and dandelion.
To attract pollinators (especially bees): Grow plants like borage, sage, and other flowering herbs.
To enhance the biodiversity of the soil from microbes to megafauna: Focus on interplanting rather than blocks of individual plant types.
To cycle nutrients: Add material cut back from plants to an on-site compost tumbler and use the compost in your garden.

Student Engagement

Highschool students at the Cav Garden

The engine of sustainability for the Cav Garden is student enthusiasm and involvement, so community engagement focuses primarily on reaching students and their families as consistently as possible. Regular garden maintenance and planning takes place through the Cav Garden Club, which is a student-led group on campus that has an elected leadership cabinet, holds weekly meetings during school to promote the Cav Garden and its role in the school community, organizes after-school and weekend work sessions, and recruits new students to the club.

With the majority of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, Santiago plays a large role in providing stability in meeting families' needs. The Cav Garden aims to impact its community by increasing nutrient-dense produce that can translate into authentic, healthy meals for families. Ultimately, their goal is to directly improve the nutrition of the community by teaching the next generation how to grow vegetables and fruits sustainably and then utilize the produce to prepare delicious and healthful foods.