With the help of a US Fish and Wildlife Service grant, Pacific Middle School in Vancouver is restoring a garden, teaching about agriculture and sustainability while getting children outside to learn about soil, plants, pollinators, and ecosystems
reprinted from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region
pring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, bringing warmer temperatures, spring blossoms on the trees and the re-appearance of wildlife in urban areas. The orchard and garden plot of Pacific Middle School has seen this change – witnessed by the 6th, 7th and 8th grader attending classes during the day. Oh, but when the school day ends – that’s when the fun begins. Students stay after school and participate in the school’s Garden Program, calling themselves “The Veggie Maniacs”. Brainchild of Science teacher, Tyler Carlson, the program began in 2012 with a 40 x 40 foot plot of land amidst the 2 dozen neglected fruit trees and unused school property.
With the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office in Vancouver, Washington, the project is now in its second year and has expanded to include community partners, the school district, local business and family members. This project was awarded one of USFWS’s ‘Connecting People with Nature’ grants that purchased all the tools, gloves and garden implements. Support from the National Schoolyard Habitat Program pushed it even further and they’ve succeeded in restoring a garden, teaching about agriculture and sustainability while getting children outside to learn about soil, plants, pollinators, and ecosystems.
With encouragement from the Evergreen School District in Clark County, Washington, Mr. Carlson led this program through its initial stages, organizes work parties and project activities. With his passion for nature and this project, the orchard and garden will thrive and the school’s Garden Club will continue for many years to come. The children are engaged, enthused and educated (but don’t tell them that – they think it’s just fun). The success of this project can be seen with the number of students attending this afterschool club – The Veggie Maniacs continue to grow.
Of the many individual projects this massive effort has undertaken, the students are involved every step of the way. From assisting with the bed building, planting and pruning, power-washing, compost building, or rain-barrel assembly, the students have taken ownership of this garden and love the idea of passing this legacy to their underclassmen. They also enjoy assisting Mr. Carlson with the indoor activities carried out through the fall and winter, including making planters from recycled materials, building birdhouses and designing a pollinator habitat. Mr. Carlson will also show PowerPoint presentations and slide shows on soil and plantings to further enhance their learning experience.
Fish and Wildlife Service staff participate in the garden club activities too. Through the Pacific Region’s “I gave 8 program” employees can assist with many of these activities, indoors and out. “I really enjoy getting out of the office and connecting with students in the community.” says Donna Allard of the Vancouver Fisheries Office, “Can I help it, if I want to steer those young minds toward careers in natural resources?”
The project’s success also depends on the participation of community members, local businesses and parents. One student and avid gardener, Alyssa, enlisted the aid of her Dad, whose support came through his employer. Lowes – Home Improvement donated hundreds of dollars’ worth of vegetable starter kits to kick off the spring planting. These partnerships are successful because they allow the children to learn and then share their knowledge.
Contributions from other partners have helped to define this garden. The Veggie Maniacs have been diligently working to spread the 11 yards worth of wood chips donated by Clark Public Utilities District. Redistributing the pile of chips around the base of the fruit trees and defining the paths and walkways is hard physical labor but the children don’t seem to mind. In fact, they are getting a science lesson as well. Mr. Carlson explains about the methane gas escaping from the wood pile. One child put her hand inside the mound and exclaimed “Hey, feel this! It’s warm”.
The USFWS’s Schoolyard Habitat Programs will continue to help reconnect today’s children to the outdoors. We applaud the efforts of teachers like Mr. Carlson who share their love for nature and the passion for developing outdoor classrooms where educators and students learn how to attract and support local wildlife as well as hone academic skills and nurture an innate curiosity and creativity.