COLOMA — Christina Gomez holds two bags in her hands and asks, “Paper or Plastic?” She tosses them both to the ground and confidently answers her own question, “Neither.”
nstead, she suggests her audience skip the grocery store and consider participating in a community garden. “It’s fresher, has no pesticides, and you can grow it yourself. It’s also a business opportunity and it [the vegetables] taste better.”
Christina is not a saleswoman, but a fourth-grader from Presentation School. While she does not have her own plot yet, she was inspired by the residents she met at Fremont Community Garden near her home in East Sacramento.
Christina recently shared her discoveries about community gardens for her “Enviro-mercial” presentation at the 28th annual Nature Bowl semi-finals competition. Christina is one of 140 students and 22 teams that gathered at the American River Nature Center to compete on March 16 and 20 in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Nature Bowl is a popular event that serves to increase science and conservation literacy. In teams, 3rd through 6th grade students from throughout the Sacramento Valley participate in four rounds of hands-on, collaborative activities.
This year students from public, private and home schools competed. Representing 19 local schools, it was an impressive crowd: 140 participants, 24 coaches, 20 volunteers, and more than 100 parents and teachers.
While Nature Bowl has grown, the heart of the event stays the same. Activities, which include relays, investigations, and bell ringers, focus on the local and regional environments. Each team also prepares “enviro-mericals,” one-minute skits, songs or jingles about a local environmental issue.
At Nature Bowl, competition is downplayed and students also learn the value of teamwork. Matt Blum, a fifth-grader from Gold Oak (Pleasant Valley) and first-time attendee, explained about Nature Bowl, “This is team building. Anyone would like it.”
Bruce Forman from California Department of Fish Game explained that Nature Bowl introduces students to the field of conservation and the importance of caring about the natural environment. Many students take their knowledge and implement solutions to their ideas. As Forman summed it up at the Awards Ceremony, “Children can make a difference and these children do make a difference. Every day is Earth Day!”
This year’s top scoring teams came from schools throughout El Dorado County: Gold Oak Elementary (Pleasant Valley), Jackson Elementary/Marina Middle School (El Dorado Hills), Latrobe School District (Latrobe), Silva Valley Elementary (El Dorado Hills), and Sierra Ridge Middle School (Pollock Pines). Winners advance to the state finals held in May at Sacramento State.
California Department of Fish and Game sponsors the competition and holds multiple semi-finals events in the Sacramento Valley. With support from staff and volunteers, the American River Conservancy hosts El Dorado County’s event in Coloma. This year, the American River Nature Center semi-finals were supported by a sponsorship from SMUD.