Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Dec. 7, 2021

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Hazel Dell garden aims to put food in kids’ backpacks

Volunteers to grow produce at the Hazel Dell School and Community Garden specifically for backpack program

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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Garden volunteers Richard Vonreyn, left, and Vicki Townsend, right, plant beets and potatoes at Hazel Dell Elementary School and Community Garden. This year the garden is devoting more beds to grow food for the school’s backpack program.
Garden volunteers Richard Vonreyn, left, and Vicki Townsend, right, plant beets and potatoes at Hazel Dell Elementary School and Community Garden. This year the garden is devoting more beds to grow food for the school’s backpack program. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

On a recent sunny Tuesday, volunteers were planting onions, potatoes, snap peas, beets and carrots in the triangle-shaped garden tucked behind the playground at Hazel Dell Elementary School. Against the retainer wall, kiwi vines were starting to sprout fuzzy buds.

Come harvest time, that food will go to the school’s poorest students who are enrolled in Share’s backpack program, which sends them home each Friday with pantry staples such as pasta, canned tuna and soup.

Bobbi Bellomy, a Washington State University Extension master gardener, said the backpack program used to just get leftovers from the garden, which has some community plots and some that people can lease. Now, they want to prioritize the pupils by having teams of volunteers grow food specifically for the backpack program.

About 70 children at the school take part in the backpack program, said Shanna Baird, family-community resource coordinator. At one point it was capped at 35 students and the school tried to put together its own bags to fill the extra need. Share eventually increased the cap. Students can also shop the donated breads from Panera, and Baird is usually able to wrangle fresh produce for the kids.

“They’re most happy when they get to have that fresh food to take home for the weekend,” she said. “They’ll take the weirdest-looking squash home and be as happy as can be.”

The students in the backpack program qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; last year, 65 percent of Hazel Dell’s student body qualified.

Baird said the garden will be a “huge blessing.” She’s been unsuccessfully trying to secure an ongoing grocery store partnership.

“My goal is to expand the kids’ options for the weekend,” Baird said.

Garden’s roots

The garden started in 2004 as a way to teach the school’s students about where food comes from, but it was too big for the school to maintain, said Barbara Nordstrom, a master gardener.

Over the years, the garden has attracted programs and partnerships with several organizations. Prioritizing Hazel Dell’s students makes the garden “more intentional,” Bellomy said.

She and Nordstrom both worked at Hazel Dell Elementary School and are aware of its students’ needs. Bellomy was the counselor and Nordstrom the community volunteer coordinator.

You can help

• Want to volunteer to grow produce at the Hazel Dell School and Community Garden for the backpack program? Learn more at hazeldellgarden.weebly.com or email GrowSmiles@hotmail.com

Now, the pair lead classes on topics like soil, worms and pollinators. That’s in addition to gathering volunteers to help take care of the garden and grow produce for the backpack program. They’re trying to grow foods that can be harvested during the school year. When school is not in session, the food will be donated to Share or the Clark County Food Bank.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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