Cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots and green beans are just some of the vegetables grown in the garden at Lowell Elementary School.
The garden is one of the new features of Lowell, replacing an older garden after extensive school construction. It contains nearly a dozen raised beds filled with vegetables, herbs and flowers, a freshly painted storage shed, picnic tables and a circle of tree stumps to be used as seating.
Parents and students visited the new garden on Tuesday for the first-ever Garden Club.
Although it’s on school grounds, the garden is run in part by Garden City Harvest, which collaborates with Missoula County Public Schools schools to educate students about agriculture through hands-on activities like Garden Club.
This year, Garden City Harvest is piloting the after-school Garden Club program at Lowell and Rattlesnake elementary schools. The two pilot programs are being run a little differently to see which model works best. The Garden Club at Lowell is more informal, with students and parents coming and going as they please, whereas Rattlesnake students sign up for the program.
“It’s a really good opportunity to get the kids out here and outside and engage with where their food comes from and being part of the process of growing that food,” said Hannah Boe, the farm-to-school assistant for Garden City Harvest.
Each Garden Club meeting consists of a mix of activities such as weeding, watering and harvesting. There are also lessons on different gardening techniques like herb-drying or seed saving, and students can take their work home with them.
For the first meeting, Boe focused primarily on showing parents and students around the garden and telling them about the different vegetables grown there.
After the bell rang and students were dismissed, Dale Flanagan, a third-grader at Lowell, visited the garden with his sister, Karmyn, and their mom, Tiffany Stebbins.
Boe led the family to the bed of carrots, explaining which vegetables were ready to be harvested and which ones needed more time.
“So you look around and you see if it looks pretty big which you can kind of tell by if it’s round on the top and then grab it right by the root and pull the whole thing out,” Boe said.
“Oh, this one looks big,” Dale said as he started to pull one of the carrots.
“Sometimes you have to give it a bit of a wiggle,” Boe said.
“Oh, goodness that one’s huge,” said Karmyn, a sixth-grader.
Families are invited to take the vegetables they harvest home with them. Karmyn said she likes to come to the garden even though she doesn’t like carrots. But she keeps trying them and she thinks she’s “getting closer to liking them.”
Dale told his family about Garden Club after he learned about it in one of his classes. He already had an interest in the garden after helping plant the new beds in the spring.
Although involvement in Garden Club is up to students, Boe said that Garden City Harvest regularly visits classrooms to talk about local agriculture. And regardless of students’ interest in agriculture, the garden benefits everyone.
Recently, students helped harvest onions from school gardens to use in school lunches. “The kids planted them here and then we were able to take them to the central kitchen where they’ve been processed, frozen for the time being, but they’ll be used in kids’ school lunches all year long.”