Children who want to learn about nutrition and experience the thrill of growing their own produce now have a place to call their own at the recently completed Youth Garden behind the Sunset Pool.
The Youth Garden, located on Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District property adjacent to the Sunset “Sunny Hunt” Pool Garden, was unveiled to the public during a grand opening June 8.
Master gardeners Mary Blake and Barbara Hassan helped spearhead a campaign to provide a garden for children that is being used within the district’s preschool and youth programs.
“If we can get children to alter their palates, to make healthy choices early in life, that’s what they’re going to prefer throughout life, but also that nutrition will help them do better in every aspect,” said Hassan, a retired nurse. “Let’s face it: nutrition is everything when children are developing. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s emotional.”
Besides, she added, “There’s such magic, taking that tiny seed that grows into a fabulous plant.”
Seaside High School seniors Sam Beaudoin, Raiden Bowles and Josef Barbic built the garden’s plant containers for their Pacifica Project. District staff, along with Hassan and her husband and fellow master gardener Ed, helped with construction.
What used to be an old parking area that was plagued with standing water and a real drainage problem is now resolved with a beautiful garden, Hassan said.
The project was financed by the high school students’ project sponsors, as well as the recreation district.
Making something beautiful
The garden includes a teaching area and containers of different heights, making them accessible to all students.
Children from the district’s youth programs — including the Learning Ladder preschool, after-school adventure and kindergarten programs and summer camp — have taken ownership of the garden and will sustain it, but Hassan hopes it gets used by other youth-centered agencies and organizations, like the Seaside School District, with its Broadway Middle School nearby.
“Were trying to make this really open, available and exciting,” Blake said. ‘’We have to eat as if our lives depended on it, because they do. And we really all have to get on board with that as early as we possibly can.”
Shelly Saunders, the district’s preschool and kindergarten coordinator, takes her students to the garden a few times per week to water the plants and check on their progress. She desires to give the children a foundation to learn about growing their own food and discovering how to use it.
The group’s original intention was to build the Youth Garden at Seaside Heights Elementary School, where the after-school program for kindergarten and elementary students was relocated during the 2015-16 school year. Complications compelled a change of plans, but while they were waiting for their new garden to be built, the students were instructed by Hassan in container gardening and nutrition and got seeds planted to have starts ready.
“Every plant they wanted is out here in this garden,” Hassan said.
Those plants include berries, apple trees, potatoes, cucumbers, parsley, curry plants and many more. In fact, Hassan mentioned, one of the first lessons during the Summer Camp’s gardening activity may focus on thinning.
‘A step program’
The Sunset Pool Garden is one of the Clatsop Community Gardens. Because it was inspired by children expressing a desire “to grow their own pizza,” Blake said, two of the original 18 plots were dedicated to the After-School Program.
Hassan developed a curriculum around food production, gardening and nutrition that she has used during the district’s Summer Camp. During camp this year, the gardening component will incorporate aspects of the Junior Master Gardener curriculum.
“We’re not going to adhere to it strictly, because it’s actually written for school gardens and we only have the kids for a few weeks during the summer, but it’s got some wonderful information,” Hassan said.
However, the garden will get used to some degree for various programs throughout the year.
“The wonderful thing about our climate is we can grow things all year long,” Hassan said.
With the Learning Ladder program expanding this fall to add a full-day option and afternoon enrichment activities, students will be served lunch, and Saunders sees that as an opportunity to use items grown in the garden. Students also can take produce for their families, and the excess is donated to the local food pantry.
Garden-style lessons have and will continue to teach respect, for both the garden itself and one another as multiple children tend to the plants together; water, plant and life cycles; preparing healthy meals and snacks; and many more. Instilling the value of good nutrition and healthy activities is “a step program,” Saunders said.
“We’re at this step here and we’re going to go to the next step, because our goal is to provide a healthier alternative for children while they’re here,” she said.