Within earshot of the Golden State Freeway and just down the street from a busy industrial center, bulldozers were tearing out the blacktop kickball court at George Washington Elementary School in Burbank on Saturday.
But they weren't clearing the way for a new off-ramp or another business park, or even new classrooms.
They were unpaving the way for a garden.
Teachers and volunteers spent the afternoon stripping 300 square feet of asphalt from the school's playground so that a grape arbor can be added to the school's quarter-acre existing garden.
The earthmoving machines were donated by the Gas Co., and company employees assisted with the project. "It's a paradox of wonders," said teacher Kreigh Hampel. "The garden has really been done with a shoestring budget and a strong will."
Hampel and other instructors use the garden as a living textbook to teach children about the environment. Students affectionately refer to Hampel as "Dr. Rot" because of his lessons on the benefits of composting.
More than 500 students are involved in the gardening program, which introduces the students to applied ecology topics such as agroforestry, water conservation and restoration of native habitats.
"We plant radishes and peas and stuff like that, and he (Hampel) usually comes to our class with bottles of stuff, like compost," said Kenneth Colman, a third-grade student at George Washington. "I like that he lets us bring our own seeds home and make our own garden so we can watch our vegetables grow."
Kenneth said he enjoyed planting potatoes, onions and radishes in his back yard. When they ripened, he and his family ate them for supper.
"It made me feel that I was helping the environment by planting," he said.