Watering down drought in South Bay

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Paula Hildebrant tends to a raised gardening table on the grounds of the South Bay Botanical Garden as she talks about plant growth and the importance of water. Photo by Maria Joaquin.

Record rainfall in Northern California has not ended the drought in SoCal.

More than 24 million people in California are still affected by drought, according to the California Water Science Center.

Southwestern College’s Landscape and Nursery Technology Program intends for students to help water down that number.

SWC’s South Bay Botanical Garden provides a sanctuary where students can practice for horticulture and sustainable living, and make it grow.

Mark Valen, assistant professor of landscape technology, said those practices will provide job opportunities in landscape architecture, garden installation, golf course management, nursery, floriculture and sustainable landscape practices. New skills are necessary.

“The industry, jobs and the nature of working with plants in the landscape has changed recently and is changing very fast,” he said. “The theme of our program is sustainability. We want to make sure that we are working in a way to help the planet.”

Students come from all walks of life to cultivate the opportunities the program has to offer.

Paula Hildebrandt, 64, is majoring in landscape practices and landscape architecture after 25 years in the electronics industry. Valen’s work at the Living Coast Discovery Center where he created training courses in composting for the City of Chula Vista drew her to the program, she said.

“It turned out that a lot of what I knew about electronics applied towards sprinkler design and a lot of the other skills,” she said.

Hildebrandt said her interests include sustainability, tiny homes and urban planning.

“I know that any new ideas brainstormed with Mark leading the program are going to be sustainable,” she said. “He is very open.”

Hildebrandt said she would like to see a sister program in South America and help start vegetable gardens at local elementary schools to pass on horticulture techniques.

“We can create the opportunity for outreach to the community and local schools to share ideas from across the globe and exchange information,” she said.

LNT student Efren Ortiz, 36, said he comes from a farming background.

“I strongly support the effort Mark has placed into the garden and the opportunities it presents to students in the South Bay,” he said.

Ortiz said he has learned to love the land.

“When you show love, a person cares, cultivates and builds up something,” he said. “The land can have the same effect on us.”

Valen said he hopes students will gain a better understanding of the best landscaping practices that are friendly to the environment and wildlife, can supply food and preserve water.

“We’re hands on and where else do you get to eat the results?” he said. “You can’t take a test and eat the test but in our classes you can.”

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