Volunteers laid down sheet mulch, weeded and planted seeds last week to prepare the garden at Mountain Elementary School in Gasquet for future crops.

Members of First 5 Service Corps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) from Del Norte County were among the volunteers at the "Heal The Garden" event.

In September 2012, the Adventures in Gardening Project at Mountain Elementary School, sponsored by Building Healthy Communities and First 5 Del Norte, was born. The project was a solution for Mountain Elementary School students, whose after-school program had been cut.

The project allowed them to learn gardening skills and how to use the fruits and vegetables they harvest to make healthy meals.

"Heal The Garden" day was a project a few months in the making. This July, a substitute maintenance worker for the school district sprayed the perimeters of the garden with an herbicide, unaware the implication this would have on an organic garden. All the crops that Mountain Elementary School children had helped plant had to be removed.

The day brought new hope to students who had seen all their hard work over the last year literally ripped out from under their feet.

Karen Rath, First 5 Service Corps VISTA Coordinator, who has been with the garden since its inception, explained that "when you tell a small child that they have to throw away the tomatoes that they have been growing for a year - they just don't understand why. It was very much a day of healing for the students, just as it was for the garden."

The day also honored Brad Richter with a memorial garden in his name. A mural, his favorite tree, a Japanese maple, and a garden post reading, "We come from the earth and we return to the earth, in between we garden..." were presented to his wife, daughter and a dozen community members who came to show their support.

Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), an AmeriCorps program dedicated to help alleviate poverty, is operated and funded by federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service.

VISTA provides a unique volunteer opportunity in that participants join an organization for a year and spend their time building capacity. Their goal is to leave behind projects and systems that can continue to thrive even when they're gone.

In addition to their normal service, VISTA participants get the opportunity to participate in two service days throughout the year.

Amira Long, who just started her second year of service at her new host site, the Del Norte Child Care Council, gave her input on what service days mean to her:

Sometimes it's fun to get your hands dirty and do some direct service. There is usually some more instant gratification -you can see what you've finished."