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Lincoln Elementary Garden Club wins national contest

May 14th, 2010 | Category: Community, News

by Brent Cole

In its fourth year, the Garden Club at Lincoln Elementary in Mt. Vernon has worked to provide a garden at the school while also increasing the nutritional value served in school food. This month, they’re being honored at the National Farm to Cafeteria conference after winning a national video contest that encouraged schools to show how they’re working to get locally grown food into their schools. The Garden Club’s video, “Real food is…” showed food from their garden, which the students, parents and volunteers helped create and maintain.
The Garden Club program began as part of the Mount Vernon Healthy Communities Project – a plan that had been adopted by Mount Vernon’s City Council as part of the long-term comprehensive plan. Included in the project are the goals of having school provide healthful foods and beverages, utilizing urban planning approaches that will promote physical activity as well as encouraging policies that provide kids with physical activity outside of school physical education classes.
“We convened a group of parents, teachers and community members who were interested in making Lincoln a Healthy School Pilot,” stated organizer Rita Ordonez. From the meeting, the group had two primary goals of starting a “school garden and improving the nutrition of the meals served,” with the intention to “grow food that can be served in the cafeteria or used in the cooking classes.”
After receiving funding from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant, and donations as well as support from the Mount Vernon Skagit Rotary and the Evergreen Land Trust.
With an army of volunteers, the group constructed 10 raised beds, a courtyard, a welcome gate, garden shed, rain barrels and hoops to cover two raised beds.
From the beginning, students and parents at Lincoln Elementary loved the program, according to Rita, with the numbers of participants increasing each year. The group meets one hour a week, after school on Wednesdays. “We are currently growing potatoes, lettuce, spinach, peas, parsley, rosemary, pears, strawberries, apples, plums,” she said, adding, “We will put in squash, pumpkins and beans soon.”
With 25-30 kids working in the garden each week, there are plenty of hands to help. Over the summer, the Garden Club will work with the Skagit County Community Action Agency; they will harvest the food and take it to feeding programs at Friendship House (a homeless shelter) and Peer Connections (a behavioral health day center). High school student Jeffrey Levine will coordinate the summer volunteer harvesters and garden tenders.
The Garden Club, Lincoln Environmental Action Force, 5th/6th grade teacher Teresa Vaughn, as well as Mount Vernon School District Digital Literacy Specialist, Martha Thornburgh produced the winning video. Much of the video was actually filmed by Rita’s daughter, Olivia Farrell, a garden club member. The winning video has garnered the attention of the media, including a recent interview with Q13 Fox news.
Rita and Olivia will represent the Garden Club in the conference, which will be held in Detroit May 17-19 with the video being shown on May 18.
Rita’s mother grew up in Detroit, so she’ll be meeting up with some special members of her extended family. “Her parents were Italian immigrants,” stated Rita, “who had a big garden and made their own pasta, wine, tomato sauce, etc.  It is really where our family’s journey to real food in America began.”
Rita notes that efforts of the community and volunteers are the key to making the program work. “Programs like the ones at Lincoln are only possible through the efforts, support and partnerships of many people and organizations. We have had great volunteer support from our entire community. We also have had great support from the Lincoln PTA, Slow Food Skagit, Slow Food USA and OXO International,” she said.
The Garden Club also offers free family cooking classes, in which a meal is prepared by all participants who then sit down and eat together.
In mid-May, Lincoln Elementary will also receive a SEED award from the Washington State Department of Ecology to build worm bins and start food waste composting. “We want to create a full cycle compost project –  from garden to cafeteria to worm bin to garden,” Rita said.

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