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Historic school garden program seeks volunteers in BritishColumbia

  • Subject: [cg] Historic school garden program seeks volunteers in BritishColumbia
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 18:43:43 -0800 (PST)

Chilliwack Progress, Chilliwack, British Columbia,
January 29, 2006

How does your garden grow?

by Jessica Murdy

For over 100 years, the Chilliwack schools garden
program has survived everything from historic flooding
to budget cutbacks. Mainly because its continued
success has more to do with what's at the root of the
program. Volunteers.
But now, as several of those dedicated people are
eyeing up retirement, it's time to find fresh
volunteers as replacements.
"I've kind of given my notice," Gloria Wagner
explains. She was last year's chairperson, garden
judge and special events coordinator, and has been
involved in some aspect for the past 11 years. "This
year I will train some people, get some people on
She says the group's main goal is to get "more people
doing less work," a common sentiment among volunteer
"Then the chairperson and events coordinator could be
four people, instead of just one," she says, laughing.
She says anyone with a desire to learn about
gardening, get involved in the community, or even bond
with their own children through a fun activity, are
welcome to sign on.
"I don't think we'll be turning anyone away," she
adds. The committee meets once a month at East
Chilliwack Elementary, with a break in the middle of
The garden program is open to all students from grade
1 through 12, including home schoolers, and in one
recent year was responsible for the creation of more
than 300 student gardens.
Students pay $2 for their application form, and the
fee is returned if a garden is planted. All the seeds
and instructions are provided free of charge, and
occasionally, there are free hands-on demonstrations
by local, successful green thumbs.
Once the gardens are in full swing, judges visit the
homes and speak with each young gardener about their
efforts; first in June, then again in July.
On average there are 150 gardens to judge, ranging
from patio and container gardens to full-fledged
country garden plots.
"There is a broad spectrum of areas the kids can excel
in," Wagner says. Kids are invited to enter the
Chilliwack Exhibition as well, and are often the
recipients of top prizes there.
Then in September, another awards ceremony is held for
the gardeners. Each receives a special certificate,
and some will be awarded with ribbons, medals and
"It is such a wonderful ceremony," she adds, which
includes several Chilliwack dignitaries, including
Mayor Clint Hames. "The kids love to get medals and
ribbons. It's nice to see how delighted the kids are
to be rewarded."
The program has been running consistently since 1904,
although back then the gardens were located right on
school grounds. The program went through several
changes and updating, but the most significant change
came in 1994, when government cutbacks forced the
Chilliwack school district to scrap the program from
its budget.
The current committee was formed one year later, and
depends on several local businesses for financial
support. They include greenhouse businesses, Brain
Minter, Bob Maljaars (Inline Propagators) and Canex.
"We are given about $5000 in donated money throughout
the year," Wagner explains. The committee and students
involved also worked together recently to create their
own funds, through the creation of a history book.
Each year, they update the book including as many
participants as possible. It is available for $20 at
school libraries.
While Wagner says the program is in real need for more
volunteers, she stresses that they should be patient
and able to help encourage the young gardener to
continue to grow.
"We try to be as encouraging as possible," she says.
As any gardener will relate, starting from scratch can
be daunting, especially in the face of uncontrollable
She tells stories of depleted little egos stemming
from wayward goats to sudden moving plans and even
overly-helpful parents.
"We've even heard one sad story where a dad went over
the garden with a bulldozer," she says. "He didn't
even know it was there. There was a lack of
communication on someone's part, there."
But mostly, the gardens are a great way for children
to learn about work ethic and a little science to
boot, she says.
For those interested in helping out the Chilliwack
Schools Garden program by volunteering their time,
contact Gloria Wagner at 604-823-4083.

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