Lots of Garden in a Little Space
February 25th, 2016 by Dianna Troyer
Cody is proud of the potatoes grown in the Paw Patch.

Cody is proud of the potatoes grown in the Paw Patch.

Young gardeners in Glide reap more than food from prolific Paw Patch

Numerous small hands lighten the workload at Glide Elementary School’s prolific Paw Patch Garden in rural southwestern Oregon.

During recess at lunch three days a week, volunteer garden director Mary Brown supervises dozens of young gardeners, listing their tasks in colorful chalk on a small board.

In the spring, they transplant seedlings started in the high school greenhouse. Raspberry shoots are dug up and sent home for kids to start their own fruit patch. Kiwi vines are trimmed to encourage lateral growth.

Students grin as they happily toil in the soil.

“I like getting my hands in the dirt and eating food that comes out of the real Earth,” says fifth-grader Havannah.

“It makes me feel good about creating things,” adds sixth-grader Gage. “I also love the treats.”

The garden—named in honor of the school’s bobcat mascot—has about two dozen raised beds. Every Wednesday, students harvest four kinds of lettuce, kale, spinach and collard greens to supplement salads served in the cafeteria on Thursday.

“We happened to put the garden on the south side of the school so the afternoon sun radiates heat off the building and helps keep plants from freezing in winter,” Mary says, noting the beds are insulated with bags of leaves students raked in the fall.

“Considering its size, we’ve been surprised and proud of how productive our Paw Patch is,” says Mary.

In addition to the weekly harvest of greens, students plucked about 20 pounds of snap peas for a local food pantry last year.

 

Reaping More Than Food
Four years ago, when Mary and volunteers started the garden for the school’s 375 students, they set a few goals.

“We wanted to cultivate a sense of wonder toward nature, promote good stewardship of our piece of the planet, encourage healthy eating habits and connect with our community,” says Mary. “We’ve reached all those goals and then some.”

Students are reaping more than fresh food when they sow, weed and harvest.

“After they’ve worked in the garden, they seem refreshed and attentive,” says Mary’s husband, John, a sixth-grade teacher. “They have a personal, hands-on appreciation of where their food comes from.”

Sixth-grader Ava says, “Gardening is my yoga.”

Brady, a fifth-grader, says, “The garden is time to let off stress and learn about what’s healthy.”

Kelden, another fifth-grader, says, “I like everything about the garden. Learning about plants helps us to survive.”

Many of their plant lessons are edible. Students savor crunchy peas in spring, and graze on plump raspberries and blueberries in the fall.

The fifth-graders designated two beds for a Three Sisters garden of squash, corn and beans. After picking the Hopi blue corn, they ground about a gallon of blue cornmeal to bake cornbread.

“Students have told me freshly picked vegetables taste better than store-bought,” says Mary. “They’ve also said they’re more likely to try new food because they’ve grown it.”

Some students tasted fennel and turnips for the first time.

“They love fennel,” Mary says. “They even liked turnips when we stir-fried them with carrots, ginger, butter and sugar.”

 

Starting Small
The Paw Patch took about two years to establish. After getting advice from the local county extension service, volunteers started with a minimal budget. They relied on donations, small grants from area foundations and a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant.

“You don’t need a huge grant to start a school garden,” Mary says, noting local businesses and residents have donated lumber and plants. “Cultivate friendships with people who want to see you succeed and are willing to provide the needed resources.”

To start the Paw Patch, students in the high school’s wood shop built 23 raised beds.

“Each bed is 8 feet long and 2½ feet wide, so kids can easily reach in to work,” says Mary. “Since then, we’ve added a couple of triangular raised beds, too.”

Local residents provide seedless grape vines for students to propagate.

“We keep them in the ground for a year, then students can take them home to plant,” says Mary.

Encouraged by the success of their vegetables, herbs and berries, Mary and her crew started an orchard two years ago, planting 39 apple, Asian pear and plum trees.

“We’re always open to trying new plants,” she says. “We received a grant to grow a variety of roses that are known for producing large, edible hips. This spring, we’ll plant them in whiskey barrel containers.”

They hope to harvest kiwis for the first time this year. Vines have to grow two years before producing fruit.

The Paw Patch has become so cherished in the school that students started a garden club and take care of the Paw Patch with their parents Monday nights during the summer.

“We hope they’ll always remember what they’ve learned in the garden,” says Mary. “One boy was so happy because he said he had learned how to use a shovel.

“I think we’ve all come to understand the saying, ‘I cultivate my garden, and my garden cultivates me.’”