Leadership Institute launches learning gardens

Pilot project fully supported by financial, in-kind donations

Staff writerMay 28, 2014 

At Stewart Elementary School in the Puyallup School District, a once under-used garden is sprouting back to life.

The school is one of four learning garden pilot projects started by the Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Institute. The other gardens are at Meeker Elementary, also in the Puyallup School District, and at Maple Lawn and Liberty Ridge elementary schools in the Sumner School District.

“The long-term goal for this project was to gain support for future schools to be included, based off the success of these four schools,” said Derek Barry, the public works administrative manager for the city of Sumner and a student in the 2013-2014 class of the Leadership Institute.

On Thursday, students from kindergarten, first and fourth grades ventured into the garden at Stewart, and with the help of Barry and other members of the institute, got to take home a four-inch pot with potting soil in it and a seed donated from Puyallup-based Ed Hume Seeds. The pots and potting soil were donated from the McConkey Company.

Over the past several weeks, fourth grade teacher Colleen Spearman has organized students at the school to experience the new garden. Spearman said vegetables planted so far have been radishes, green onions, carrots, leaf lettuce, pumpkins, squash and sweet peas.

“We’re down here daily every morning, watering the garden,” Spearman said. “We want something that (students) can see and taste and know that this is theirs,” Spearman said.

Abigail Chandler, principal at Stewart Elementary School, said the garden gives opportunities to students to learn about growing plants for food.

“A lot of our kids live in apartments and don’t have a place to grow,” Chandler explained.

The opportunity is significant for Katie Dearinger, a fourth grade student.

“It means I can really plant,” Katie said. “I can do things that I wasn’t able to do. At home, all we have is a flower garden. I love getting dirty and having fun.”

Jose Celestino, also a fourth grade student, said he is excited to plant vegetables and eat them. A seed he decided to plant and bring home was a radish. Jose said he enjoyed the spicy flavor of a radish.

When the chamber’s Leadership Institute voted to move forward with the gardens as the class project, it enlisted the help of Ed Hume of Puyallup-based Ed Hume Seeds to promote the program.

On May 10, Hume set up a booth at the Puyallup Farmers’ Market where he sold his seed packets to raise money for the learning gardens. Barry said more than $140 was raised to go toward garden products.

“Ed has definitely had a great impact,” Barry said. “He gave us instant credibility.”

Hume said he is glad he could help.

“This is important for me,” he said. “It not only teaches kids about nature, it also gives them a great education as far as providing food for those who are less fortunate. I think that is extremely important. And it gives them an opportunity to get their hands in the dirt.”

In addition to the May 10 fundraiser, Hume said he also donated hundreds of seed packets for distribution among the four learning gardens.

Other important sponsors of the program include the Washington State Fair and Event Center, Corliss Resources, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Lowe’s Home Improvement store, McClendon Hardware, Rogers High School and Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Products.

Barry said the Washington State Fair helped plant the garden starters in a greenhouse at the fairgrounds. The organization distributed 80 garden starters to each school. The horticulture group at Rogers High School has pledged to grow garden starters in future years. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department gave a $3,000 Healthy Youth grant to be used to support the construction of a fence at the Liberty Ridge learning garden in Bonney Lake.

Barry said how each garden will be integrated into daily curriculum will be dependent on each school.

“We just want it to be successful,” Barry said.

Spearman said it’s possible much of what’s grown at the Stewart garden will go to support the school’s food pantry and feed students.

Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com @herald_andrew

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