Cicero once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
For 80 young gardening enthusiasts at Willow Creek Elementary, this sentiment still rings true centuries later. These first- through fifth-graders in the Willow Creek Garden Club find true joy in growing, nurturing and harvesting a school community garden each year. Along the way, they also learn about biology, nutrition and the benefits of being outdoors.
The project was started in 2011 by former teacher Andrea Koenig with funds from a State Department of Education grant. An additional grant the second year helped with improvements. Boy Scout Troop 116 assisted with the garden construction. Originally comprised of just a handful of students, the club has grown into a popular after-school activity for kids, and the garden is thought to be the longest-lasting school garden in the district.
Under the direction of fifth-grade teacher and current club advisor Kayla Stone, members meet for 45 minutes every other week for a mini lesson, followed by their choice of a garden activity such as pulling weeds or seed planting, or a craft such as creating a bird feeder, pinwheel, planter or whirligig. A smaller group of 10 fifth-grade leaders meets weekly beginning in October to research what to plant in the garden and plan club events.
“It’s been a great leadership opportunity for them,” said Stone, who created the leader group when she took over the club last year. “They develop important skills and realize that leadership is helping others, not being bossy.”
She also wants all the garden club members to realize the benefit of teamwork. “I want them to know that many hands make the work not seem so hard,” she said. “We are part of a community and can help each other out.”
That community extends into kids’ families. While the garden will be fully planted by the end of the school year, much of the hard work takes place during the summer months when kids are on vacation. To keep the project going, families volunteer to “adopt” the garden for a week, agreeing to come out to weed and take care of any problems. Harvesting is open to all.
Stone hopes that gardening will become a lifetime hobby for the kids, giving them a reason to enjoy the outdoors while also appreciating good foods they might not otherwise be willing to try.
“I want them to learn where their food comes from, and that it doesn’t have to be expensive to eat well,” she said.
Stone believes Willow Creek’s garden is the district’s longest-lasting school garden in recent memory and would love to see it continue to prosper. To that end, she encourages individuals, families and organizations to adopt the garden by volunteering to work over the summer, donating supplies or teaching a short garden-related lesson. Stone would love to see more community help so she can expand the kids’ time in the garden.
Support of the garden has been provided by Trinity Community Gardens (seeds) and Tates Rents, with additional one-time assistance from Lowe’s, Zamzows, and Busy Bee Sand and Gravel.
The students purchase needed supplies by selling seedlings they’ve grown but don’t have room for in the garden. The cost is $2 for large plants, $1 for smaller seedlings and 50 cents for “mystery peppers” grown from seeds that got mixed up. Contact Stone at [email protected] or through the Willow Creek Community Garden Facebook page to purchase plants or volunteer to help.