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photoThe Winthrop Kiwanis Club built this sturdy garden shed for the Classroom in Bloom project. All garden signs are in Spanish as well as English.

Dirt Floor
Classroom in Bloom

So what happens to a school garden more than a half-acre in size when the students who help maintain it leave for summer vacation?

That’s when Alexa Whipple, the high-energy garden and education coordinator for Classroom in Bloom, depends on adult and student volunteers to show up once a week and literally lend a hand with weeding, planting, thinning or whatever else needs doing. (She’d love to see more volunteers between 9 a.m. and noon any Wednesday.)

The reward is spending time in an abundant and beautiful garden refuge among healthy vegetables and flowers, with the added perk of eating a ripe raspberry or two.

The garden is located behind Methow Elementary and Liberty Bell High schools. It's a non-profit educational project that started in the spring of 2004 to help teach youngsters gardening skills and help them understand sustainable agriculture.

photoAlexa Whipple, garden and education coordinator, loosens a row of Spanish roja garlic.

Anaka Mines and Lexi Koch started Classroom in Bloom. In a video about the garden, they talk about getting teachers and the school cafeteria involved. “Food comes from the soil,” Mines said. “You can plant a seed, water it and get food.” This is eye-opening knowledge for some children.

On a recent summer morning Whipple had the following to-do list for her volunteers: General garden cleanup, weeding, plant beans, carrots and beets, mow the grass garden paths, water the future orchard, sow a buckwheat cover crop in two old strawberry beds, and whatever else time and helping hands allowed.

Her helpers included Nick Allgood, Ann Henry and student Lily Holston. Whipple and Henry have been involved since before the very first seeds were planted – Whipple as a volunteer and Henry as a board member of Room One, the social services agency in Twisp that served as a vehicle for the non-profit garden to get its early financing.

Allgood, who grew up helping his grandparents garden every summer, has a master’s degree in education from the University of Washington and has taught at the Islandwood Environmental Learning Center on Bainbridge Island. Since moving to the Methow he has cobbled together a handful of part-time jobs in true valley style – part-time work for Classroom in Bloom, after school activities coordinator for elementary school students and college counseling for Liberty Bell High School students. He also puts in some hours at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop.

As the sun climbed in the sky, Allgood took a break from weeding to explain that during the school year eight garden classes a day are taught on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The goal is that all students from kindergarten through eighth grade get a 40 minute weekly lesson in where their food comes from, how to grow it and how to prepare and serve it. About 10-15 minutes are spent in a gazebo called “the learning circle” before the kids get their hands in the dirt.

So what about the crops that mature during summer vacation? “We try to plant so not much is ready during the summer except one bed of strawberries and some summer raspberries,” said Whipple. “Everything else is ready about Sept. 1... We usually focus on storage crops and then a little bit of everything else.”

Vegetable crops that are growing now include peas, carrots, corn, potatoes, parsnips and onions. There are a couple of fruit trees but a recent expansion has added a dedicated orchard space to be planted this fall or early next spring. Apples, pears, plums and perhaps pluots, a plum-apricot hybrid “that the kids love” are possibilities, Whipple added.

For more information:

(Image on Grist home page: Chris “Flash” Clark helped Sisu, his two-year-old daughter, pull a head of garlic. Sisu’s mom, Katharine Bill, is the interim executive director of Classroom in Bloom.)

photo of adults working in gardenAlexa Whipple, Ann Henry and Frauka Rynd, left to right, harvest garlic with Nick Allgood, foreground, using a wheelbarrow straight out of an artist’s dream.


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