A faculty backyard thrives in difficult occasions

How can a school garden survive this pandemic? It takes courageous educators, some determined parents, and a lot of support in the community. Here is an inner-city school garden that continues to give in despite the blockages and hurdles that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our schools.

The Garden Club at the Daniel A. Grout Primary School In southeast Portland, Oregon has worked actively to keep his school's garden alive. Grout's garden was selected as the winner of the Gardening Know How school sponsorship award last year. GKH only gives 20 awards each year, and this one was a clear winner. Grout Elementary is a low-income Title 1 school that has a very diverse student population – so diverse that 20 different languages ​​are spoken.

In addition to the dedicated teachers, volunteers, and PTA parents at the Grout Garden Club, a local organization called Grow Portland helps the area's school gardens thrive. Grout's garden is structured as both a learning experience and a seriously productive project mission. The reward in a normal school year, of course, comes from the young students who are actively digging, planting, weeding, tasting and studying.

Grout PTA hired Grow Portland to ensure that all K-3 students are provided with a high quality, culturally engaging gardening education. During a normal school year, Grow Portland's gardening educator attends school monthly and offers children an opportunity to connect with nature and healthy food. The kids get their hands dirty planting, weeding, hands-on observation, and studying in the outdoor classroom. Students learn about plants, pollinators, and sustainable gardening, in addition to the rewards of trying the fresh vegetables they have grown.

Children explore the garden.

This year the garden could easily have failed with no on-site students and reduced staff, but Grow Portland saw the opportunity for the garden to produce food for students in need. The typical gardening groups weren't an option during the pandemic. Gardening people like Erica Keeley, co-chair of the Grout Garden Club, have implemented a system where Grout volunteers sign up for two-week watering stays. They also organized a special volunteer registration form to help with certain cleanup jobs like weeding, compost maintenance, and vegetation cutting on a staggered schedule to maintain social distancing. Together they made sure that the garden continued to produce despite COVID.

Harvest from the garden continues to be delivered to the district food service for the ongoing free lunch program available to all Portland children. Grout is just one of 10 Portland schools that partner with Grow Portland. Among the ten schools, over £ 2,000 of school garden products were donated to school lunch distribution points. Students continue to visit Grout's garden each week to collect meals.

As one of the schools in the Portland Public School District, Grout Elementary's garden has been in operation for over 10 years. For the past 5 years, the school's garden has really grown with the help of Grow Portland. Erica is also active in a larger eco school network that focuses on promoting sustainable practices and raising awareness of ecological awareness in schools in Oregon. This year the Eco-School Network is helping Erica and her daughter on a student-led fundraising project to improve access to water for the garden.

Donations from organizations like the Whole Kids Foundation, the PTA and Gardening Know How have helped keep Grout's school gardens afloat. PTA members work diligently and creatively to coordinate socially distant versions of events such as the auction and annual native plant sales to spark interest in donations to Grout's gardening programs.

Erica does not see any slowdown in program dynamics. "My goal is to bring in fresh faces to move them forward." Those fresh faces include parents of young students who are just starting school. Grow Portland is currently working on creating recorded gardening sessions for online learning at home. We hope that in many years to come, with the help of people like Erica Keeley and the Grout Garden Club, the school garden will still thrive.

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