Putting down roots
Families in Chugiak have found a surefire way to get kids to eat their vegetables.
Led by several dedicated parent and student volunteers — along with support from staff at the school — “Rams Roots” is a new community garden project at Chugiak Elementary School that recently had its first harvest. On Aug. 20, gardeners spent a drizzly early fall afternoon picking a bumper crop of cabbage, peas, cucumber, herbs and more from the muddy soil. They’ll pull potatoes and carrots next month from the nine rows of brightly colored wooden boxes that make up the garden near the school’s main entryway.
“We’re only going to harvest what’s ready today,” said Leslie Bobo, a parent of two Chugiak Elementary students.
Bobo said the idea behind the garden was to foster a love of fresh food in young students and to strengthen ties between the school and local community. After a summer in which numerous families and teachers pitched in to help, Bobo said the garden has fulfilled its mission.
“We had kids who refused to eat a vegetable and now they’re eating stuff out of the garden,” she said. “My goal from the beginning was to teach kids where the food comes from. I think the further you are from where the food originates, the harder it is to get back to a healthy lifestyle.”
The garden was built this spring with the help of donations from local businesses and the Anchorage Fire Explorers, who provided plenty of muscle to help build the beds.
“They supplied a lot of the hard labor,” said Miranda Bowey, another school parent whose family helped in the garden.
Other sponsors of the project included Chugiak PTA, Rural Discount Center, MEA, BP, P&M Garden Services, Steelhead Landscaping, Anchorage Sand and Gravel, Klondike Construction, Titan Soil and Emerald Alaska.
Volunteers planted on May 21 — the day before school got out.
“No one wanted to come back and plant,” Bobo said.
Volunteers each signed up for a week to keep an eye on the garden over the summer. Bobo also started a Facebook page to keep community garden members connected.
“Any kid, parent, whoever wanted to join,” was welcome, she said.
School staff made the community project possible with their support, Bobo said. Principal Susan Hindman was the first to embrace the idea when Bobo brought it to her back in Feburary.
“She made this super easy,” Bobo said.
Hindman said she thought the idea had great potential to grow a stronger relationship between the school and its families.
“It’s just been a really great community event,” Hindman said.
Bobo said getting the school’s teachers and staff to buy into the idea was crucial to the garden’s success.
“They were really supportive of this and that’s the hard part,” she said.
Parents Brandon and Willow Canady said they bringing their kids to weed and water the garden was a highlight of the summer.
“It’s just another learning experience for the kids, to teach them where the food comes from and the hard work it takes,” Brandon said.
Parents Scott and Tana Luna said they were novices when the project began. But after learning some gardening basics, they felt comfortable trying to grow their own food.
“We planted a garden at home because we started here and learned how to do it,” Tana Luna said.
Bobo (who grew up on a farm in Delta) said some people simply needed a nudge in the right direction.
“A couple of them, just by doing these beds they had the confidence that they went home and built two themselves,” she said.
Bobo said anyone wishing to contact her for tips about starting a school garden can email [email protected].
Scott Luna said many hands made light work at Rams Roots. With so many families involved, there were always people willing to help over the summer.
“That was totally manageable and kept everything looking good,” he said.
His son, fourth-grader Dustin, said he enjoyed working with the plants and digging in the soil.
“I got to weed, I got to garden,” he said.
Even weeding wasn’t too big a chore, since most of the garden was edible.
“Even the flowers,” said Willow Canady, pointing to a cluster of spicy orange and yellow nasturtiums.
Third grader Colton Bobo said watching the plants grow taller over the summer was fun. But his favorite part was harvest time.
“I like how I can eat it afterward,” he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at [email protected]