A Glimpse Into Portland’s School Gardens

This past Friday, July 23rd, GROWINGGARDENS Youth Grow Manager, Caitlin Blethen, coordinated a school garden tour.  Throughout the day, folks on the tour were able to visit a broad range of school gardens around the city, ranging from an established garden and cafeteria project, to a parent-driven school garden, to a teacher-driven garden and depaving project.  We are extremely lucky to live in a community full of school garden inspiration-and the GROWINGGARDENS School Garden Tour provided a great opportunity for current and aspiring garden educators and coordinators to learn from and share with each other.

For those of you that were unable to make the tour, we thought we would share a little bit of the day with you…

To start the day, we visited Abernethy Elementary in Southeast Portland and learned about their Garden of Wonders Program.  Abernethy has been nationally recognized for its Scratch Kitchen Pilot Project, and has supported that project with the Garden of Wonders and the Garden of Wonders classroom.  Abernethy students connect to their food and the environment through participation in year-round garden and nutrition lessons.   Many thanks to Sarah Sullivan, Garden of Wonders Coordinator, and Nori Gordon, Garden of Wonders Educator,  for leading tours of the garden and the Garden of Wonders Classroom.

We followed our visit to Abernethy with a trip to the Atkinson Garden. Since 2001, the Atkinson Outdoor Learning Garden has been run a parent-volunteer group called the Outdoor Learning Garden Committee.  Atkinson students learn about the environment and diversity in the context of four gardens (the wildlife habitat, pollinator garden, the magic garden, and the multicultural garden) as well as in the fabulous outdoor classroom-with a functioning ecoroof!  Thanks to all of the Atkinson parents and Outdoor Learning Garden Committee members that led the tour of the garden, as well as Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe, Farm to School Program Manager from the Oregon Department of Agriculture!

We then headed to the Vestal School and Community Garden in Northeast. Built just last fall, the Vestal garden required the removal of 15,000 square feet of asphalt (and was greatly helped by the involvement of a great organization called Depave).  One third of the garden is designated for use by Vestal School, and the remaining two thirds is being used as a community garden managed by Portland Parks and Recreation Community Gardens.  At Vestal, every classroom tends a garden bed and participates in weekly garden visits.  Thanks to Laura Benjamin, Vestal Garden Coordinator/NWSA AmeriCorps, and Tim Hahn of the Learning Garden Institute for help leading tours of the site!

Next we headed north to Faubion K-8 in the Concordia neighborhood of Northeast.  Faubion’s garden program was revitalized two and a half years ago with the goal of creating a garden space that could provide opportunities for teachers and after-school programs to encourage healthy eating and connect students to the environment.  Faubion is currently finishing up their second year of their partnership with GROWINGGARDENS, and has also greatly benefited from partnerships with the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program, Oregon Tilth, and Concordia University.  Thanks to Amanda Hill, Faubion Garden Coordinator, and Nell Tessman, GROWINGARDENS Youth Grow Educator, for leading the tour and discussion at Faubion.

Finally, we finished the school garden tour at Vernon K-8. Created in 2006, the Vernon Garden is used during the school year by after-school and summer garden club students in the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program.  This past year, students in the 3rd-5th grade garden club were able to grow and harvest lettuce for the salad bar in the Vernon cafeteria.  The Vernon garden supplied the cafeteria’s  salad bar with lettuce nine times during the 2009-2010 school year, with the hope of growing even more next year.  Vernon is just finishing their second year of their partnership with GROWINGGARDENS. Thanks to Sarah Canterberry, Vernon Garden Educator, for leading the tour of the Vernon Garden!

Thanks to everyone on the tour for a such an inspirational day! And for those of you who missed it, keep your eye out for a tour next summer!

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