Making their garden grow

Riverbend students learn to plant vegetables in a new school community garden

Posted: Sunday, May 09, 2010

Students at Riverbend Elementary School are learning to cultivate vegetables through a new school community garden program.

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Kim Andree / Juneau Empire
Kim Andree / Juneau Empire

"You guys must have a lot of love in you," said program leader John Smith to Davin Savikko's kindergarten class on Wednesday. "It takes a lot of love to grow these plants, so you must have a lot of love."

Smith, Riverbend's culture paraeducator specialist, was inspired by his work at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School and with community garden authority Darren Snyder, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, to start a school garden this spring.

"I like that I get to plant potatoes and carrots," said Molly Brocious, 5, a kindergartner in Savikko's class. "All the kids like it, too."

About seven or more classes in the school are growing peas, carrots, lettuce, onion, green onion, potatoes, rutabaga and radishes in the school's nursery. In the process, they've learned how to germinate, fertilize, plant and transplant vegetables, as well as keep charts on how much water, fertilizer and sunlight the plants get.

"I think it's important for them to learn a little bit about math and science," Smith said. "It's physical science and it's a neat project. And if you look at how the kids are responding to it, they're just all excited, because they get a chance to actually give life in a way."

Smith said the project has even provided an outlet for troubled students, as well as a way to discipline kids who misbehave.

"(One student) spent the day with me helping me dig," Smith said. "Because he did wrong, we tried to put him to work.

"But what was cool was he didn't want to go back to class. He was like, 'Hey, this is a lot of fun.' And he got to talk. He let out a lot of his feelings. So that was kind of a special one-on-one time for some of these kids."

Yet, the thing Smith enjoys most is that the project has brought students, parents and teachers together.

"I want to use this to bring families, so that we can build a new family," he said. "It's been a lot of fun. Let's get the community garden support group going."

Participating teachers and their classes were Deb Cox (special education), Victoria McLaughlin (kindergarten), Marta Pardee (kindergarten), Tisa Becker (K-1), Davin Savikko (kindergarten), Donita Jerue (third grade) and Caryn Walker (third grade).

Kids involved saved milk cartons to reuse for planting. Swampy Acres donated compost, and Trucano Construction and Home Depot are donating planter boxes.

At present, Smith also is working with his wife, Victoria Johnson, an Indian Studies paraeducator at Dzantik'i Heeni, and Synder to get another school community garden going at the middle school.

"The school community gardens are an excellent way to have kids learn about growing food, to understand where food comes from and learn basic plant and animal biology," said Snyder, who has spearheaded the Gruening Park garden. "It's a healthy way for people to be outside for spending time together. It's also healthy food for the people to be eating, so kids can be supplementing their lunches with that."

Snyder values the idea of self reliance. The idea that these kids are doing this themselves is great, he added.

"(They're doing this) in order to give to others and have that charitable value to express, to give to elders and give to others in need," he said.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at

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