Sunset students harvest their garden and learn about healthy eating
by: lori hall 
Fifth-grader Olivia Bell peels the outer skin off a tomatillo she picked from the Sunset Primary School garden.

'These are onions?' asked fourth-grader Carli Ghiselline, holding up a green tomatillo. 'They don't look like onions.'

Quickly corrected by a fellow student, Ghiselline got a quick education about the differences between the two during a recent afternoon in the Sunset Primary School garden.

Classes got to spend 20 minutes each in the school's garden Sept. 20, helping to pull weeds and pick the vegetables.

The garden's director, Kathy Ira, instructed the students on what they were picking and how to pick them.

Ira was the physical education and wellness teacher at the school until she retired last year. She decided to stay connected to the school through the garden, staying on as its director.

'After 30 years, there was no way I could leave this place,' Ira said.

The garden, located on the west side of the school, is 6,600 square feet and was built in 2001 with funding by the PTSO.

Ira said, during the summer, parent volunteers tended the garden, watering, weeding and picking the ripe produce. Even the neighbors help out sometimes.

Parent volunteer Lisa Cheeves said she was working in the garden one day this summer when an elderly lady came in wanting to plant a pumpkin. Over the course of the summer, thanks to her green thumb, several other mystery plants appeared and little statues were added to the garden.

When school is in session, classes rotate working in the garden. Plants include strawberries, a variety of beans, peas, sunflowers, zucchini, herbs, artichokes and a mesclun salad mix, just to name a few.

Second-grader Bryce Kelly said he enjoys working in the garden because 'You get to pick the vegetables.' He named peas, strawberries and apples as his favorite 'vegetables.'

First-grader Taylor Christ-

ianson on the other hand, only likes the strawberries.

Audrey Lippert, a first grader, proudly held up the two green beans she picked, declaring her love for raspberries.

Parents Heather Nance and Kathy Connell were among the five volunteers helping in the garden.

Nance said, 'The main thing is the kids get to come out here to help.'

Connell added, 'It's fun for them to come here and get experience.' She said her children didn't even know what tomatillos were until they saw them in the garden.

'If you can see it, it's pretty cool,' Connell said.

Prior to this fall, produce from the garden was incorporated into the school's lunch program. However, now that the district has switched to a bagged lunch system, the garden's bounty is no longer used. Parents and neighbors are welcome to come visit the garden, though, Ira said.

Later this fall, students will help prepare the garden for the winter.

The school's PTSO funds the garden, including its supplies, maintenance and a stipend for its garden director.

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