“Mrs. Mercer, when are we going to make kale chips?”
It happens every year without fail. The first week of school students are anxious to get back to the garden, dig in the dirt, and taste what has been growing.
When my eldest started kindergarten at Eagle River Optional in 2010, I was eager to volunteer. I was excited when I heard the school had an existing garden. I enjoyed gardening with my children; I figured helping with the school garden could be an excellent continuum.
Many of the parents who had been helping with the garden had children that had aged out of elementary school. I was very happy when another parent, Felicia Hanna, who also shared my love for gardening, decided she was interested in the garden as well. Over the years, we have added to the existing garden. We wrote a grant for expansion and created a garden plan that fits in with teacher schedules to allow the garden to be part of the student’s curriculum.
While Felica and I are the official garden coordinators, we do not run the gardening program alone. In order to make the garden program work, we have many dedicated parent volunteers that show up every week throughout the school year, and over the summer as well, to water and weed.
We start seeds as early as the end of January. The kids care for and continue to plant more seeds until May when we transplant them outside into garden beds. Over the summer, each week a different family signs up to care for the garden. When we return in the fall, it’s harvest time. Carrots, kale, potatoes, peas. One of our traditions is for students make kale chips and enjoy them together in the classroom.
The rest of the harvested vegetables are made into soups. The kids, with parent volunteers, wash, scrub, chop, slice, mix and measure all day long to make soups that are enjoyed at an evening potluck for all the families.
Any leftover vegetables are up for donation at the potluck. Money collected goes into the garden budget for the following year.
When introducing kids to the idea of eating fresh vegetables and edible flowers, I often hear, “I do not like vegetables.”
It’s always amazing to me when I ask them to try a piece of, “Fresh broccoli, right from the stalk,” to then have them declare that they now LOVE broccoli!
Kale gets a bad rap.
Just today, I introduced a new group of students to the Optional garden. I innocently offer the unidentified vegetable to trusting children.
“Did you like it?”
Most declare they liked it and are shocked to hear they just ate kale – and enjoyed it!
I count that as a win.
Each year I rediscover the love of gardening through the children. The garden opens up conversations about healthy eating, sustainable growth, edible plants, our environment, not to mention biology and ecology.
Today I was happy to see how willingly they tried new things. Kale, peas, chives, broccoli, and nasturtium flowers which are beautiful and palatable.
When a child asks me when we are making kale chips, or a parent tells me their child willingly consumed something green, it’s exciting. It means that the work that Felica and I and all the other parent volunteers do to allow the kids to experience the bounty of a garden is paying off.
Nicole Mercer has lived Alaska for 12 years. She explores nature enthusiastically and seeks out delicious new adventures around every corner. To reach Nicole, email: [email protected]