“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?”
Three women determined to bring a community garden to Tillicum never thought of their effort as a miracle. That was left to the children.
But what can you say about a librarian, a community center leader and the director of a nonprofit coming together and turning a nondescript lawn into a crash course on horticulture?
Or children and parents learning about gardening and nutrition at the same time?
Not a miracle, although miracles are in short supply in this Lakewood neighborhood as much as anywhere else.
Just hard work and the willingness of many others to assist.
Librarian Jeanine Adams, whose grandfather taught her how to work the soil, had the idea for a community garden but nowhere to put it. Tillicum Community Center executive director Karen Priest had the land – that smallish lawn behind the center that served as a drain field.
It was late-spring inspiration, but the idea didn’t bloom until late June when Stephanie Cholmondeley, executive director of the nonprofit group TREE, came aboard.
A creative, ferocious force for the children of the Northwest, Cholmondeley took “community” to a new level. The lawn was available, but because of the drain field below it, any gardening had to be done in raised beds.
All the new garden needed was soil, lumber, building materials, plants, seeds …
“We partnered with Emergency Food Network to get starter plants, because we didn’t get this going until July,” Cholmondeley said. “We got Home Depot, Lowes, West Pacific Lumber, Walmart and Target involved.
“We got the Lakes High School Junior ROTC to help us build the raised beds, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Community Gardens provided compost, Tagro and wood chips.”
Then came the key ingredient: children.
“Kids taking part in our summer school lunch program would eat here and then walk back in the garden area to see what was happening,” Priest said. “They asked if they could work in the garden. It was very sweet. Most of them had never seen a garden.”
“The children took ownership of the the gardens. We had children from Tillicum Elementary and Woodbrook Middle School involved, and 20 of them volunteered to be here Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Cholmondeley said.
“Then they asked, ‘What about Tuesday and Thursday?’ They wound up coming all five days to work here.”
Parents were as delighted about the project as their children.
“We mixed the dirt, helped lacquer the garden boxes and planted the garden,” said Debbie Forsythe, whose sons Diego, 7, and Junior, 5, took part. “They watched it grow, and would talk every day about what was happening.”
Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, corn, broccoli, kale, snap peas – whatever starter plants or seeds the women came up with – went into the ground.
And as they grew, Adams said, the concept of the community garden project widened. Most of the children gardeners had never eaten fresh produce. That changed after the first bit of harvesting.
“We made a fresh summer salad for them from the garden, and made croutons from bread that was on the edge from the food bank here,” Cholmondeley said. “We made a vinaigrette dressing – and one mother said her daughter had never tried anything but ranch dressing before.
“We’re not just trying to grow a garden, we’re trying to change some eating habits, too.”
Along the way, children became more and more involved.
“Every class at Tillicum Elementary came over to see the garden and learn about gardening,” Priest said. “When we put wood chips around the raised beds, children from the school visited and marched around to stomp it all down.”
Last week, the garden continued giving back. Brothers Diego and Junior Forsythe visited and happily picked their own broccoli, peppers and lettuce, then took home a couple of recipes provided by the library.
By next spring, the library will be hosting “cooking from the garden” classes. Support is growing.
“Our back-to-school program hosted 600 people and the children all wanted to show the garden to their parents,” Priest said. “I think the parents were delighted.”
Forsythe was among them.
“They can’t wait to do it again,” she said of her two sons. “Next year, they want to grow pumpkins.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638