When Lakeridge Elementary students return to school this week, those in one after school club will be able to see the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor this past spring.
About 35 kids are part of Lakeridge’s garden club, meeting every Friday after school to learn about gardening, cooking, sustainable farming and local food. Island resident and mother of five Nancy Weil started the program to teach kids about where their food comes from and how much time and effort it takes to grow it, in a very hands-on way.
“I’m amazed at how much kids will eat if they were involved in making it,” Weil said. “It really opens your eyes to what it takes to grow your own food … And it tastes better than [produce] from the grocery store.”
Weil started sustainability initiatives at Lakeridge six years ago, and the garden was started by parents with the help of Anthony Warner, a garden coordinator for schools in Seattle. Weil said that the PTA, principal and superintendent were very supportive of the idea.
Weil also runs the King County Green Schools program for the Mercer Island School District, and helped start the “zero waste” campaign at the Mercer Island Farmers Market and at school parties. She previously served on the Mayor’s Sustainability Task Force, in the subdivision of waste reduction.
Leftover food is a huge issue in schools, she said. Educating children about saving their snacks for later instead of throwing them away, and about the importance of composting and recycling versus tossing things in the trash can (which schools now label as “landfill”), is a small thing that makes a big difference.
Weil listed several examples of little changes that can be made in daily life to save resources: replacing light bulbs with LEDs, buying recycled paper towels and wrapping presents with newspaper instead of gift wrap and ribbons.
Equally important to the lessons that are learned is the fun that is had. Weil said that she wanted the kids “to love it, and to get their hands dirty.”
The Lakeridge garden has 17 beds and many varieties of plants: 15 types of tomatoes, six types of potatoes and four types of cucumbers, along with cauliflower, radishes, squash, bell peppers, carrots, onions, lettuce, cabbage, kale, strawberries and even an herb garden. Weil said she tried to fill the garden with some unusual types of produce, like lemon cucumbers, which are yellow and round, and different colored carrots.
The garden also had also broccoli, which was lost to aphids, and pumpkins, which were stolen. Weil said that there have been problems with people outside of the Lakeridge community coming in to the garden and taking food, many times before it is even ripe, but “we can’t control things like that,” she said.
The district’s food service director, Carol Bus, and a Chartwell’s regional manager met Weil in the garden last week to talk about bringing the food into the lunchroom to make it “garden to table” for students. The USDA has a school garden program called “The Farm to School” Program that gives grants to help support and promote school gardens, Weil said.
At the end of the last school year, Weil helped the kids in the garden club make salads from their vegetables, and said she hopes to teach them how to make tomato sauce, salsa, mint tea and other treats when they return.
Weil, who didn’t have a background in gardening or environmental science, said that she became interested in sustainability after seeing the film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” When she decided to start the garden at Lakeridge, she said she got an “overwhelming response.” Parents signed up to water the garden every few days over the summer to keep it going.
“The kids learn that it takes months to grow, and that if you leave it alone for a few days, it dries out,” Weil said.
At the end of the day, Weil said that she wants to help the kids “out into the world with this knowledge and make the world a better place.”
Clarification: The article previously stated that Nancy Weil, along with Seattle garden teacher, Anthony Warner, had started the garden six years ago. Weil created the green team at Lakeridge in 2009 to support sustainability on many levels. Underneath the umbrella of the green team, a garden initiative was started by parents who wanted to create a formal learning garden.
With the support of then Principal Fred Rundle, and in honor of a Learning Garden started years earlier by parent Michelle Lambe, the following parents helped create, procure grants and build what then became the Lakeridge learning garden: Maryellen Johnson and Sarah Smith (garden initiative), Kaarina AuFranc and Justin Davis (parents with gardening, design and building expertise), Gordon Polson (alum parent and Master Gardener), Liz Evans (parent, pediatrician and passionate environmentalist), Weil (green team founder) and many other parents.
The program grew by parents teaching garden lessons tied into curriculum when possible. Eagle Scouts built picnic tables for students to learn at and finally in 2013, Weil and Evans created what is now known as the Lakeridge Garden Club. Weil hired Warner, a seasoned Seattle Orca School garden teacher, to help mold the program in its first year. In the club’s second year, Weil ran the program herself with roots across the board from Warner’s teachings combined with information from the Junior Master Gardner program.