Sara Carnochan plucked an orange Sungold tomato from its vine and popped it into her mouth. It was perfect.

“These guys are ripe!” Carnochan said before propping up a tomato cage that had probably fallen during the previous evening’s storm.

The garden where Carnochan found this deliciousness one recent day is on the grounds of Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter school in Southeast Washington. And it is where Carnochan spent the summer helping to make sure the garden flourished — even in the heat of a D.C. summer.

It is a job she is accustomed to. She has worked part time at the school, helping to care for the garden for four years. But this summer, she had extra help.

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Thanks to a program created through a partnership between the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the Department of Parks and Recreation, Carnochan was joined by a resident from the neighborhood to help keep the plots producing while school was out of session.

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And in return, her volunteer got a chance to practice her gardening skills and take home some summer produce.

Through the program known as Shared Roots, 30 volunteers fanned out to eight school sites, one community garden and two private residences in the District to help keep things growing and to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to community members.

The program is in its second year and has changed names and scope. It began as Growing Food, Growing Community and served seven sites last summer.

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There are more than 7,000 gardens in schools across the country, according to the 2015 Farm to School Census. In 2010, the District passed the Healthy Schools Act, which required the state superintendent’s education office to establish the School Gardens Program. Now there are 134 school gardens in the District — 67 belong to D.C. Public Schools, 58 belong to public charter schools, and nine are private, according to the District of Columbia Healthy Schools Act 2018 Report.

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Twenty-five of the gardens were established during the 2017-18 school year.

As the number of school gardens grows, so has the need for help.

State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang called the partnership with Shared Roots “a great way to expand that connection between schools and the communities around them to make sure that there is a richer and more dynamic experience where that garden serves as that connector.”

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There’s also a long wait list at many community gardens, Kang said.

Working with the schools would give residents a chance to reap the benefits of a community garden and support their local educational institution.

During some summers, high school students attending classes or taking prep courses would help care for the garden at Thurgood Marshall, Carnochan said. But she praised the help from Shared Roots and volunteer Rhonda Curtis, who she said made caring for the garden easier.

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“[Rhonda] was so super amazing that it didn’t matter that it was just one person,” Carnochan said, adding that Curtis was eager to learn. “From a more practical standpoint, having her volunteer with me this summer means that the garden now is in a much better place with these students. . . . I was able to keep the garden way more weed-free.”

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Carnochan harvested Swiss chard, okra, basil and other items one recent morning. She placed the goods in teachers’ mailboxes, based on previously requested orders.

The produce selected on this day was just a sampling of what the garden offers. During the school year, students also grow kale, peppers, carrots, rosemary, cilantro, chives, pears, apples and plums. Carnochan also runs the school’s Green Club, which gets high school students involved in using what they grow to try new recipes. Last year, they made strawberry ice cream and cucumber soup from their harvest.

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“One thing I focus a bit on is being open to new things, new tastes and new flavors, and having an open mind,” Carnochan said. “So I think that is one thing students who are with Green Club all year [get] is a willingness to try new things and be adventurous and open, which can be applied beyond the garden.”

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The same held true for her summer volunteer.

Curtis, 33, took her neighbor’s children, ages 2, 5 and 7, to the garden. She would also bring them cucumbers and tomatoes to try at home, which Curtis said they loved. (They weren’t big fans of the fresh mint and lemon balm.) They were inquisitive about the difference between ripe and unripe tomatoes. For them, it was the first time seeing mint and other edibles from a garden, a sentiment Curtis shared.

“It all sounds so simple,” Curtis said, “but me being from the city and never being around a garden” made it exciting.

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She said she was pleased to see what she planted during her first visits to the garden finally bloom.

Now, Curtis wants to start her own inside garden at home in Anacostia. She has started weeding her lawn, knowing what should be removed and what should stay.

And she’s planning a return to the school garden next summer. She has learned a lot, and she can offer a key piece of advice to those thinking about gardening:

Don’t get a manicure first.

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