Instructing students in a portable classroom on the outer perimeter of Daffodil Valley Elementary School grounds has its perks for science teacher Kim Hammer.
For one, it’s situated adjacent to the new vegetable garden that includes sunflowers, lettuce, strawberries and potatoes.
“This is good for all grade levels, from kindergarten through fifth-grade, to have that hands-on exploration,” Hammer said. “Kids can taste, feel and smell the vegetables.”
Students and parent volunteers at Daffodil Valley and the FFA club at Sumner High School joined together to plant the garden in May.
Community sponsors Western Wood Preserving, Corliss Concrete, McKonkey Company, McLendon Hardware, Raven Construction, the King-Pierce County Farm Bureau and Coastal Farm and Ranchy Supply supported the project by donating materials.
Seed money was derived from a $1 million grant issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services, and it was awarded to the Washington State University Extension.
The grant supported a 2 1/2-year “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” People’s Garden School Pilot Project that started in April 2011. In the study, the WSU extension partnered with the extension centers of Cornell University in New York, Iowa State University and the University of Arkansas and engaged 4,000 students across a multi-state region in 54 low-income schools.
Daffodil Valley Elementary was among those selected. Some were assigned the intervention role, meaning they received a garden early in the study along with a garden education tool kit. Other schools, including Daffodil, were assigned a control role, meaning they did not initially receive a garden but were part of the research study and questions.
As a thank you to students for their participation, control schools were allowed a garden this past spring.
“The same data was collected at the intervention and control schools,” said Kerri Wilson, the WSU extension educator. “At Daffodil and all of the other schools, students filled out surveys in the classroom about food preferences and what food they had tasted before. Surveys were sent home for students and parents to fill out together. Photos were taken of student lunch trays for three days during each data collection period.”
Data collections were fall 2011, spring 2012, fall 2012 and this past spring.
The project goals were to increase fruit and vegetable consumption; empower youth in their communities; contribute toward a sustainable environment and food system, and to build a nationwide network.
Sarah Ingham, a parent volunteer at Daffodil Valley Elementary, was instrumental in the design.
“Sarah has become the coordinator of the garden,” Wilson said. “She goes out to water the garden and sends out emails of what is needed.”
Greg Pile, adviser for the FFA Club at Sumner High, plans to have his students visit Daffodil and mentor children there. Pile also envisions opening up the garden more to low-income families in the Sumner area.
“We want to reach out to the low-income families so they can reap the benefits,” Pile said.
Daffodil Valley Elementary Principal Marcie Belfield said when the garden opened late last spring, it was immediately utilized by summer-school students who worked there.
“We opened it to any family who wanted to come during the summer months,” Belfield said.
Belfield added that WSU’s nutrition educators will come to the school to teach nutrition curriculum and lead parent nights during the school’s after-school Dolphin Club program. The Sumner Food Bank will bring clients to the school to learn how to cook using certain vegetables, she said.
Integrating the garden in life sciences instruction in kindergarten through fifth grades will be in line with the district-wide physical education program grant.
Niko Saliveros, 9, said having a garden at the school is exciting. As a third-grader last spring, he was part of the garden-planting group.
“I’m excited to try new vegetables,” Saliveros said. “It’s taught me to eat healthier foods. My favorite healthy foods are apples and carrots.”
Hammer’s science class ventured out to the garden last Thursday morning. Squash, potatoes and peppers were some of the vegetables picked and taken back to the classroom to look at and study.
“I love watching the kids,” Hammer said.