Youth Garden presents fun learning opportunities - Celebration is June 8


By Sue Cody


Youth Garden 1Life is springing forth behind Seaside’s Sunset Pool. A newly completed Youth Garden serves programs for kids in the Preschool, After School Kindergarten and After School Adventure programs, run by the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District (SEPRD).


Seaside High School students Sam Beaudoin, Josef Barbic and Raiden Bowles spearheaded the construction for their Pacifica Project, assisted by Master Gardeners Barbara and Ed Hassen. The garden offers raised planter beds of different heights to accommodate many physical capabilities. Donations from area businesses moved the project forward.


An Open Garden celebration is planned from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 8. Free food will be provided by the North Coast Food Web. Everyone is welcome to attend.


Youth Garden 3‘That’s my seed’


The Youth Garden is proving popular with teachers and students alike, and offers many learning opportunities.


Shelly Saunders, preschool teacher at SEPRD uses the garden with her students.


“We are introducing gardening at the preschool level because many of these kids live in apartments and don’t have access to a garden. The kids can see it doesn’t take much space to grow something.


“Kids like to play in the dirt. It’s exciting to plant seeds. Right now, we are watering the seeds and seeing the plants sprout.


Bending over the garden bed, one child points and says, “That’s my seed!” someone else says, “No that’s my seed,” says Saunders. “They really take ownership. They are amazed to see they can grow their own food.


Master Gardener Mary Blake says, “We need to be reminded about how open and available kids’ imaginations are at an early age. They have no screens and see life unfold because they are not disconnected from the wonder of it all.


“Gardening helps kids notice their size and place in the universe. They can hold a seed and watch it grow when it has good soil, water and tender care. Everything is energy, everything is growing.”


Saunders says, “We started the garden after studying farms and learning what farmers do. We use the garden in conjunction with lessons on healthy eating. Things from the garden taste better than things from the store.”


In addition to the raised beds in the new Youth Garden, Saunders says the children planted pumpkin and zucchini seeds on a little strip of land behind the classroom at the Seaside Youth Center. They will be able to see in the results in the fall.


Youth Garden 2The power of outdoor activities


Another advantage of the garden is that it gets children outside. Research shows children are not spending enough time outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reports children spend as little as 30 minutes a day in uninstructed outdoor play and up to seven hours a day in front of an electronic screen.


Meanwhile, NWF reports childhood obesity has doubled over the past 20 years, while kids have become more stressed and out of shape.


“Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, and possibly heart disease, diabetes and other health issues,” according to research cited by the NWF.


The Way to Wellville’s Community Wellness Team encourages access to healthy food and outdoor exercise.


“A garden offers a rich learning environment,” Blake says. “A lot of kids have chaos in their lives. A garden is a practical, magical, beneficial path to awareness. It gives them a deep, understanding relationship with nature.”


Treasure hunt


Gardening has a history in this area. The Sunny Hunt garden adjacent to the Youth Garden was started years ago when students wanted to grow their own pizza, Blake says. Sunny Hunt was teaching a nutrition class and the students conceived the idea of a garden. Blake was then executive director of SEPRD and offered the site of the abandoned indoor skatepark for a garden.


One year, kids planted potatoes, but could not see the fruits of their labor, Blake says. Then they started a treasure hunt, digging with their hands to uncover potatoes in the ground. The kids were amazed, she says.


“It was such a great learning experience,” Blake said. “They produced 47 pounds of potatoes! We washed them, set them out in front of the building. The kids who grew the potatoes got first choice on which ones to take home, then they shared with the kids who chose not to participate. The rest they donated to the food pantry. The kids learned about sharing and giving.”


Blake said kids sharpened their decision-making by seeing the results of the choices they made early on. “They can learn they are the drivers, not just consumers. They can drive their own path and influence parents to buy healthier food.


“A garden is an extraordinary place for community to move to sense of wellness, and it starts with kids.”