Lessons are bountiful in Hallinan Elementary's school garden
by: VERN UYETAKE Hallinan sixth graders Audrey Finlay, left, and Gisela Valderrama, look forward to eating carrots fresh picked from the garden.

Early last spring Hallinan parents pitched in to build a school garden, complete with a water reclamation watering system, compost bins, security system and a formidable eight-foot fence to keep out vegetable-munching deer. Their hope was that the garden would provide hands-on opportunities to learn about gardening, sustainable practices and how food gets to the table.

Principal Steve Mauritz and the school's teachers taught the students how to plant and tend their garden. They began composting lunch leftovers and patiently watched the garden grow.

Over the summer 14 families, including those of Gisela Valderrama and Jay Heymann, took turns tending the garden and shared in the bounty it produced.

'I came usually two or three times (when it was her family's assigned week),' said Valderrama. 'I watered and checked to make sure everything was doing ok.'

Audrey Finlay and Valderrama, both Hallinan sixth graders, are members of the Garden Committee and enjoy spending time doing any of the many chores associated with the garden.

'It's easy,' said Finlay. 'Mr. Mauritz taught us how deep to plant the seeds and when we need to water and when the vegetables are ready to pick. You can tell if carrots are ready because the top will be poking out of the ground.'

Both girls said they could really notice a difference in the taste of fresh from the garden produce.

'I hadn't tried radishes before we planted them,' said Valderrama. 'They are good and carrots are so much better too.'

Earlier this fall, students harvest the crops, which parent volunteers prepared for them to sample. They made salsa, trays of cucumbers, carrots and cherry tomatoes, which they served with ranch dressing, and other dishes. Some parents prepared more adventurous dishes such as tabbouleh, garbanzo bean salad with parsley and a baked zucchini dish.

'We made a variety of dishes,' said Carolyn Heymann, one of the parents who were instrumental in the garden's creation. 'We wanted them to try something new.'

'Some kids were a little hesitant at first,' said Finlay. 'They were encouraged to get a review from other people. They saw their friends eating it and they tried it.' And all agreed that just-picked produce tasted so much better than store purchased produce.

Aside from getting to try new foods that they had grown themselves, the students are learning firsthand about the science of agriculture and the concept of complementary crops.

'Tomatoes grow up and carrots grow down,' said Heymann. 'We tried to plant things together that complemented each other and made the most of the space.' Tall growing plants were grouped with low-growing ones.

Karen Davitt, mother of Hallinan fourth grader, Jackson, and second grader, Sean, and Heymann would like to see other schools build gardens, for the food as well as for the many educational benefits.

'There is probably space available at every school,' said Davitt. 'They don't have to put in a vegetable garden. They could grow shade tolerant plants, like blueberries.'

Parents donated most of the materials and labor used to build the Hallinan garden, which Heymann said is cost neutral. 'It's a low maintenance, high yield project,' she said.

The students have a certain pride about their garden that goes beyond any lesson they could learn in the classroom.

'Some kids really found their thing,' said Davitt. 'This is their garden … they can come out and just play in the dirt!'

With hunger being experienced by so many Oregonians, Heymann thinks gardens at schools could help reduce food insecurity and address childhood obesity by encouraging them to eat more vegetables.

Lake Grove's garden grows well, too


Staff Reporter

Lake Grove Elementary also has a thriving garden, which was dedicated two years ago. This past May a greenhouse was added, which was made from donated and reclaimed materials, according to Principal Sara Deboy.

Like at Hallinan, volunteers tended the garden over the summer.

'We had some parent volunteers, but the biggest help came from our kids,' said Deboy. 'We have student volunteers who actually ride their bikes over here and water the garden in the summer. And some that are in daycare in our building go out and tend to it and weed it. And we have some staff that helped take care of it, too. Many hands make light work. And we've had really awesome cooperation from the Waluga Neighborhood Association too. They've stepped in and been a lot of help too.'

Deboy prepared a binder of lessons for teachers to use in the garden, covering everything from starting seeds to measuring exercises, composting and more.

The school was given a solar-powered fan for the greenhouse, which Deboy said students in the older grades were looking forward to testing different conditions in the greenhouse.

'There are many opportunities for the students to learn in our garden,' said Deboy.

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