Douglas County is home to over 18 school gardens in various stages and uses.
Glide Elementary School has had a school garden for over nine years, while Myrtle Creek put in a new garden this year. Some are used to study pollination by planting native flowers and some are used for food production with a goal of using the food in school meals.
The benefits of school gardens have been well documented and include increased fruit and vegetable consumption, a deeper appreciation for the environment, improved social and emotional skills and significant increase in science scores.
Douglas County is home to a Garden Hub, which is defined by Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network as a centralized location in the county that supports all school garden and Farm to School programs throughout our region. This role is housed at Douglas County OSU Extension Service and serves any school or organization in the county who is interested in a school garden.
Pre-COVID, visitors at schools with gardens would be able to see students planting, harvesting and tasting fresh vegetables from their school gardens. Some even have learning areas where classes can be conducted such as Winchester Elementary, Glide, Douglas High School and Boys & Girls Club.
Garden-based lessons are provided by teachers and Douglas County OSU Extension also provides a garden-based curriculum for third graders which can be done indoors, outside or as a mural drawing option for those who do not have gardens.
During the pandemic, interest in gardening has skyrocketed nationwide, including school gardens. Organizations have been creative with pivots made to accommodate distance learners by continuing to provide garden-based education with hands-on activities.
Through the Farm to School program at Douglas County OSU Extension Service, students at Fremont, JoLane, Glide and Coffenberry will all have a chance to participate in a Youth CSA Program where they will receive produce boxes from Lehne Farm and Valadez Organic Produce that they will create recipes with.
In April, a Garden Hub Spring Gathering was held where Garden Champions from several different schools throughout the county gave presentations showcasing their work.
Michelle Berray of Douglas High School has an aquaponics setup for her students and the welding class built a frame for one of her growing systems.
Glide Elementary Paw Patch volunteers are producing lessons for classes to use on composting.
Myrtle Creek Elementary started a native pollinator garden on a small piece of land, demonstrating it does not take much space to start a garden.
Phoenix School gave us a tour of their greenhouse, vermicompost system and smoothie patch where they have planted 120 blueberry plants.
Riddle High School is creating a new garden and Eastwood expanded their garden to include space for each classroom to have a raised bed and they are installing a pumpkin patch.
Winchester, Fir Grove and Green Elementary Schools have an AmeriCorps School Garden Coordinator who provides video lessons along with hands-on activities for students to do in classrooms, at home, or in the school garden.
If you are interested in volunteering at a school garden or becoming a Garden Champion for a school garden near you, contact Erin Maidlow at Douglas County OSU Extension Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Douglas County has a rich agricultural history and by giving youth the tools they need to develop a passion for growing their own food, we will continue with a food system that provides for our community and preserves our natural resources.