Bay Area Students Honor the Work of Cesar Chavez

By Laurel Sebastian, Lead Program Manager

Environmental activist Cesar Chavez was a Californian Latino American civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm Workers Union) because he wanted to create positive change in his community. Fifth grade students at Gregory Gardens Elementary School in Pleasant Hill explored healthy and unhealthy elements of their local environment with KIDS for the BAY (KftB) in their Watershed Action Program (WAP) and were eager to take action to make their own watershed healthier for all.

“Cesar Chavez protested against the pesticides hurting farm workers. They can make people and animals sick,” said Alex, as he reflected on the WAP pesticides lesson. KftB Instructor Laurel Sebastian replied, “Exactly! Some pesticides are extremely toxic, and people like Cesar Chavez have taken action to make sure particularly dangerous ones are banned. Today, we’re going to learn how pesticides can impact our watershed.” Students who had gardens or knew someone with a garden were excited to learn that even if aphids, slugs or other pests were eating their plants, they could still deter pests without using any harmful chemicals!

Student scientists worked together in groups to build models that experiment with how pesticides move through watersheds in small aquariums. First, one student in each group sculpted a raised farmland of gravel on one side of the aquarium. Another student added trees, a farmhouse and animals to the mini watershed. A third student added clean water to form a river below the farm, like the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers that snake through the farmlands of the Central Valley. Each group added red or yellow food coloring to represent pesticides impacting their farm. Ms. Laurel asked the students if pesticides are always colorful or visible. Emma responded, “No! A lot of pesticides are clear liquids, powders or gases.” Rahman added, “But we have to be able to see the pesticides for our experiment to work, that’s why we’re adding the food color.” 

As students added “rain water” into their models, low groans sounded around the classroom. Uriel exclaimed, “No! The red pesticides are seeping into the river under the gravel!” Some students attempted to rescue their animals or farmers from the pesticides! Soon, every river in class was dyed yellow or red. When Ms. Laurel asked for more scientific observations from the experiment, Brooke shared, “It changed so quickly once we added the water. The watershed wasn’t healthy and clean anymore.”  Ms. Laurel asked, “Why would these pesticides be a problem for the watershed?” Tyjay responded, “They would make fish and animals in the river sick, and it could make people farming or people who drink the water sick too.” The class continued to discuss how pollutants can move through groundwater as well as surface water, which can seep into drinking water reservoirs. 

When Ms. Laurel asked the students to share their ideas about what we could use instead of toxic pesticides, the students had lots of ideas to share. Isis shared, “Some people like Chesar Chavez fought to make dangerous pesticides illegal. We can use more natural products instead if we really need to get rid of bugs.” Ms. Laurel responded, “Yes, it’s easy to make a safe spray from simple ingredients at home to deter pests in your garden. Organic farmers can use similar sprays too.”

In memory of Cesar Chavez we want to share the recipe below to make your own non-toxic pesticide spray! See this site for more details on each ingredient. 

KIDS for the BAY Natural Pesticide Spray

  • 1/4 cup jalapenos peppers or 1 tablespoon ground red pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons biodegradable soap
  • 1 tablespoon oil 

Blend the water, peppers and garlic. Add soap, oil and blend for a few more seconds to mix in soap. Strain the mixture and place into a spray bottle. Apply to the garden leaves every few weeks or as needed. If using pepper, be careful to spray it away from you. 

*Due to school closures, KftB Instructor Laurel Sebastian and other KftB staff will be completing Action Projects with partner teachers and students through remote learning. Gregory Gardens Elementary School student Environmentalists will receive a remote lesson, access to the recipe, and the opportunity to make their own safe garden spray for their families to use at home this spring and summer.

Please see our At Home Activities and our Everyone is an Environmentalist! Activity Set for a simple lesson you can complete at home to make your own natural pesticides for your garden.

KIDS for the BAY