RAINIER, Ore. — Skyla Ade dug her hands deep into the earth, scraping a mound of wet dirt toward her to make a planting hole. She plopped a red cabbage into the dirt and patted it down.
It was a dreary day recently at Rainier High School when Ade, 15, and several students worked vigorously to plant onion and cabbage in the school’s raised garden beds. The students are part of Discovery Club, an after-school group focused on gardening and healthy eating.
Under the direction of Dustin Vinson from Greg’s Gardens & Gifts in Longview, the students plucked weeds from several raised beds before replacing them with onion bulbs and budding cabbage plants. The students crouched beneath hooded sweatshirts and coats to shield themselves from a downpour as they planted.
“I love the rain,” 15-year-old Annie Tygret said, lifting her muddy hands from the garden to reach for another plant.
Discovery Club meets once a week and teaches high school kids to garden and cook quick but healthy meals. Julie Crape, the high school’s agriculture teacher, said the students have learned to make smoothies, healthy carrot cake cookies and apple “nachos” (applies drizzled with warm peanut butter and topped with dried fruit).
This year is the first full year for the club, which is funded by multiple grants. A $400,000 Career Technical Education grant paid for the garden, while $300 from a Fuel Up to Play 60 grant helps pay for other club necessities. Money from a PEP grant pays for supplies.
“The reason we called it Discovery Club is we wanted it to be open to student interpretation for what they want to do,” Crape explained.
On days the kids garden, they plant herbs and vegetables that later are incorporated in cafeteria meals. Students grow oregano, thyme, mint, chives, grapes, strawberries and kale, among other foods. The purpose, Crape said, is to teach healthy habits early on.
“People in this community have a hard time eating healthy,” she said. “They have a hard time coming up with ideas for foods that are healthy and quick. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to cook things that are healthy for them and healthy for their family.”
Skyla, who is in Crape’s agriculture class, said the club is an extension of what students learn during school hours.
“It’s something different than our regular routine,” she said, without shifting her gaze from the garden. She studied her work, scanning for space to place another cabbage plant.
“I think I pretty much filled up this bed,” she said to Annie, who was planting nearby.
The two girls continued scanning the dirt for open space.
Annie said she enjoys the gardening aspect of Discovery Club, but cooking is her favorite part.
“We’ve had competitions with making smoothies before,” she said.
Ryan Cash, 15, said he’s interested in both gardening and cooking.
“Ever since I was little I’ve had an interest in farming and cooking,” he said. “In my family, I was always the one that wanted to cook.”
Ryan, who’s been coming to the club for three months, said he hopes to start a farm one day. The work can be tough, he said, but it’s nothing he didn’t expect.
“I sort of thought it would be like this,” he said as he reached for another plant. “I’ve grown up with a big family, so I sort of have a lot of stuff to do.”