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Nando and Ralphie cultivate kids, as well as plants: On his haunches in the dirt, Nando talks to Chris Bond, 8, Damian Rosso, 10, and Chauncey Henderson, 9 (and-a-half), about planting rows of jalapeno peppers in a square-framed raised bed.

"Listen, listen," Nando tells the boys, all in pale-blue school uniform shirts. "This is your row. You take a trowel, make a hole. Keep your soil in your trowel, put the plant in, make a little hill with your hands, and you're done." Damian, his shirt buttoned to the collar, is skeptical; he doesn't want to get dirty. Nando shows the boys how to use the trowel to measure the distance between seedlings, then steps back to watch.

"Let me see if you figured it out," Nando coaches. Chris plants a seedling, which tips over into the soil. "Dig real deep, get a little deeper, then, with your hands …" he says, and molds the earth.