Starting with two different piles of soil, seeds, cardboard and a collection of boards, students at Roseburg Junior Academy got down to earth in the back of their school on Monday morning.

Under the guidance of Juliete and Chriset Palenshus, of the Umpqua Community Veg Education Group, and Roseburg Junior Academy Principal Jeff Jackson, nearly a dozen fourth through eighth graders constructed frames for three garden beds, carefully added two layers of soil and had vegetable seeds planted before lunch.

Roseburg Junior Academy and Freemont Middle School are the first two schools in Douglas County to be approved for free garden beds under the Kitchen Garden Project from the Umpqua Veg Education Group, with other schools awaitng approval.

Funding to build the garden beds is made possible by a grant from Community Health Improvement Plan funding through the Umpqua Health Alliance. Juliete Palenshus, executive director of UC-VEG, said there’s enough money to build as many as three beds each for up to 10 low-income families and 10 other nonprofit organizations.

“If we do 10 of those for schools, that’s fine with us,” Juliete Palenshus said.

She said the UC-VEG nonprofit hopes to complete all projects by the end of the year. As part of the application process, organizations must show they have a basic infrastructure in place for a garden as well as a sustainability plan. Successful Kitchen Garden Project applicants will receive garden beds, seeds and soil, and garden-based and nutrition education. Schools participating in the Kitchen Garden Project will be well on their way to becoming a Blue Zone Project Approved School, she said.

“It’s kind of a matter of who is ready first,” Juliete Palenshus said.

Chriset Palenshus said getting students outside to create, sustain and harvest vegetable gardens will hopefully lead to habits that will improve overall health and reduce the risk from major illnesses due to poor health choices.

“And hopefully bring some of those healthy habits home,” Chriset Palenshus said. “If you start young, it develops healthy patterns that last through a lifetime.”

UC-VEG is a nonprofit organization with the goal to provide nutrition education and lifestyle-related programming throughout Douglas County.

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