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Garden grown

Student works to get grant for Sauvie Island Academy community garden

Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - Sophia Johanson-Phillips, a seventh-grade student at Sauvie Island Academy, stands in the community garden she has played a key role in developing over the past year. Last year, when she was in sixth grade, Johanson-Phillips and a classmate successfully applied for a small grant to help get the garden started. The garden is now a learning project for her entire grade and other students at the school, as well as a source of produce for both the school cafeteria and a senior living community in Scappoose.Last school year, two sixth-grade students at Sauvie Island Academy led efforts to create a new community garden on their school grounds.

Sophia Johanson-Phillips, now in seventh grade, and a close friend who no longer attends the public charter school applied for and received a $400 grant from Katie’s Krops, a group that supports community gardens. The grant helped the school turn a fenced-in patch of overgrown grass into a growing herb and vegetable garden in just a matter of months.

The garden is now tended by Johanson-Phillips’ class of 24 seventh-graders. The students grow broccoli, carrots, kale and more.

“Sometimes ... we come out here and we dig, and we plant more stuff, put more soil and water in,” Johanson-Phillips says. “It’s really fun, because we don’t have to sit around in class all day.”

The responsibility of caring for the garden will rotate among classes throughout the year, her teacher, Matt Radich, says.

The garden program at Sauvie Island Academy is intended to provide not only fresh produce for the cafeteria — and also to students and senior citizens at the Emeritus at Rose Valley assisted living community in Scappoose, to which crops from the garden were recently donated — but also a special learning experience, explains Erica Soto, fiscal development manager at the school.

Gardening has the potential to provide students with lessons in mathematics, economics and life sciences, among other subjects, Soto says.

“We want them to have a rich experience of learning that doesn’t usually come from a textbook,” she says. “And Sauvie Island offers that landscape for us to provide this learning, where kids don’t even realize they’re in a classroom.”

Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - Sauvie Island Academy student Sophia Johanson-Phillips with a plant bed overflowing with tomatoes around the side of her school. She said her teacher, Matt Radich, sometimes lets her and other students pick some of the tomatoes and take them home if they finish their work early. The school cafeteria makes use of the fruit as well.Radich says care of the vegetable beds, including those that predate Johanson-Phillips’ project and are generally tended by younger students, is done on a “class-by-class” basis. He and Soto suggest the school would like to see a more unified approach, especially among sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“We’re trying to do more of a cohesive thing with the upper grades, and [we’re] really pretty much starting a garden program that we’d like to expand,” says Radich.

Produce from the gardens, such as herbs and tomatoes grown in an overflowing vegetable bed around the side of the school building, makes its way into the salad bar in the school cafeteria on a regular basis, Radich and Soto say.

“We’re eating the food that we grow,” Soto remarks. “And not only is it good for our bodies, but it’s good for our budget.”

Johanson-Phillips is working with Soto on a new grant proposal that Soto says could net the school up to $1,000 for work expanding and improving the community garden.

“I’m in development because I love kids, not because I love earning money for schools,” Soto says. “But the dollars go to the kids. It’s an investment in their lives. And we can’t always measure the success, but when you see somebody like Sophia just bloom, no pun intended ... with the leadership of this project, it’s beyond the grant funds that we received. And she now is a leader, and she’s confident. And I just love seeing that happen for kids.”

A few beds in the new garden are currently unused. Radich says ideally, they will be cultivated later on in the school year.

“I think the last year, it was definitely an idea in progress,” says Radich. “And it seems like this year, we have a lot of student buy-in. People are really excited.”

He adds, “We’d like to get it expanded, get those other beds going, so that everybody feels like they have a plot that they get to sort of have their personal space. And we’ll do some inquiry projects where they can decide what to plant. And, you know, some things will work with the weather or the season, and some won’t. And it’s all an awesome learning process.”