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Missoula, MT: Stevensville Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] Missoula, MT: Stevensville Community Garden
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 2 Jul 2004 08:04:38 EDT


Students' hard work creates a lush garden for their town
By GINNY MERRIAM of the Missoulian

STEVENSVILLE - Kayla Dufresne has gardened for half her life.

Kayla is 10 now. She started when she was 5, with a pot of sand and some pumpkin seeds in her grandma's back yard.

"I love to garden," Kayla said Thursday as she worked in the Stevensville Community Garden in her big-white-daisy shoes and coral-colored T-shirt. "It's fun."
Kayla is the unofficial "junior master gardener" of the garden. She returned to her horticultural roots last fall when she and the other volunteers, many of them kids in the Stevensville Schools' After-School Program, harvested a bounty of pumpkins at the garden. They took their seeds out, cut them up, cooked the pulp and made 72 pumpkin pies for the community Thanksgiving dinner.

"We had pumpkins coming out our ears," said Patricia Wilson, director of the After-School Program.

"It was a lot of pies," said Kayla.

This year, Kayla and the other kids are part of the garden's first real whiz-bang season. Andrew Stotz, who's 10, likes planting seeds. Michael Steber, who's 9, is good at weeding and loves to be out in the sun. Alex Elam, who's 12, raked a ton of leaves - maybe literally - last fall that are now enriching the garden's compost bin.

"We've had really good response from the community," Wilson said.

There wasn't much to get excited about in the fall of 2002 when the garden began in a dried-up, weedy field on the grounds of the kids' school on Park Street. Kathy Belke, president of the board of Stevensville's Pantry Partners Food Bank, got the idea of a community garden on a school grounds when she read George McGovern's book "The Third Freedom," in which he describes such a project.

Belke knew the Stevensville Garden Club had talked about it, too.

"But no one knew where it should be," Belke said. "It was difficult to find a location."

Belke and the Pantry Partners board vice president Arnie Polanchek visited school superintendent Dennis Kimzey. He volunteered the land.

Pantry Partners itself was moving to a house on the school grounds. There was more room, and the location was good - so many households have reason to come to the school anyway. The Food Bank board supported the idea, Belke said, because it hoped people would donate extra produce to the Food Bank.

"The Pantry is able to provide a lot of things," Wilson said. "But perishables are pretty hard."

That very fall, the garden started with four beds, some volunteers and the gardening guidance of master gardener Molly Hackett. They were hauling water from the Pantry building in buckets, more than 100 yards.

"It was very basic, let's say," Belke said.

"Finally, I decided this would not work. So I went to the hardware store and got many lengths of hose. This was progress."

The next spring, it only made sense to involve kids. That led Belke to Wilson, who oversees 45 to 90 schoolchildren in the program year-round. Wilson writes grants, and she wrote a small one, $1,000, for the garden in the name of Pantry Partners and the Stevensville School District.

There's a substantial overlap, Wilson and Belke said.

Fifty-two percent of Stevensville school kids qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program because their parents' incomes meet the definition of poverty. Pantry Partners, which serves as the food bank for northern Ravalli County, serves about 130 families a month. Last year, it fed almost 5,000 individuals and prepared about 1,500 food boxes. Wages are low, Belke said, and the Bitterroot doesn't have big industry.

This season, volunteers have made a big difference. Bitterroot Restoration Inc. donated pipe for a sprinkler line to the garden, and they've helped with a hoop house greenhouse to extend the season and other things. John Meakin, a retired BRI employee, and sixth-grade teacher Harry Miller dug the trench for the line. This fall, it will be extended to each of the 22 small beds and one giant one.

Bigger yields next year should bring donated produce to the food bank.

But best of all, kids are learning about gardening and food and natural science. Sandy Gates, a landscape designer and teacher, has been teaching about gardening at the community garden and at the Teller Wildlife Refuge, where she teaches Art in the Garden, a summer program for kids.

"Kids don't get outside enough anymore," she said. "They find out it's OK to slow down, to hear just the sounds of what's outdoors, no TV, no one talking."

She tells of a little girl thinning carrots recently and being amazed.

"She said, 'This is a root! When I eat a carrot, I'm eating a root!' " Gates said. "Kids don't know that potatoes grow underground."

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com

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