By Kyle Spurr, The Bulletin
The Environmental Center in Bend was recently awarded a $5,000 grant to grow its garden education programs in schools across the region.
The sustainability organization will use the grant, from the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation, to fund a FoodCorps service member and support its Central Oregon Garden Educators Network.
The FoodCorps service member, Tracy Ryan, teaches students about healthy foods at Bear Creek Elementary School in Bend and Three Rivers Elementary School in Sunriver.
As for the Garden Educators Network, parents and teachers have gathered a few times a year since 2016 to share gardening ideas. The grant will help provide a training session and two gatherings for the network this year, including a garden site tour.
All of the efforts to train teachers and teach children about gardening is part of the sustainability organization’s initiative, Garden for Every School, said Denise Rowcroft, school gardens manager for The Environmental Center.
“We see it as enhancing the academic strength of the schools by providing hands-on opportunities,” Rowcroft said. “Gardens can be a really hands-on way for kids to connect with nature.”
The sustainability organization has supported 10 school gardens across Central Oregon and is actively working with more schools in the Bend area that are planning to create gardens, Rowcroft said.
At Three River Elementary School, students designed a surprising garden project. Kindergartners through second-graders created mobile indoor garden carts using donated shopping carts.
Ryan, who oversees the students through the FoodCorps program, said the shopping carts allow the students to harvest vegetables year-round because they can wheel the carts outside and back in the school.
In addition to gardening, Ryan talks with the students about nutrition and encourages children to taste the fruits and vegetables that they grow. The children often learn that healthy foods don’t taste as bad as they originally thought, Ryan said.
“If we can get our children to understand how much the food we put in our bodies affects us, they will make better choices at an earlier age,” Ryan said.