PTA Co-President Rachel Lee in the Sunnyland garden

Students at Sunnyland Elementary School are learning firsthand how food gets from the garden to their table, thanks to a massive volunteer effort this summer from the school’s Parent Teacher Association and community partners.

Cornwall Church provided 115 volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 17, to work with the PTA to restore the school’s traditional garden on the north end of campus, including the addition of new blueberry and raspberry plants. They also added touches to the new vegetable garden on a south-facing slope at the school, and widened a gravel path around the athletic field. The track had been losing ground to the encroaching grass over the years.

“A ‘labor of love’ is what I was calling it,” Sunnyland PTA Co-President Rachel Lee said.

The most exciting aspect of the project from the kids’ point of view might be the new south garden. During a visit with Lee on a recent October morning at the school, the garden was flourishing with rows of herbs, broccoli, cabbage, and crunchy kale leaves that we picked and ate right off the stem. (Lee posed for a photo in the garden that morning, above.) Students have already been able to add kale and radishes from the garden to the cafeteria salad bar.

Lee saw the potential for a garden on the south side of the school this summer, when she took the job of co-president. She and the other co-president, Eli Vignali, among others, held weekly work parties during the summer break to root out the ivy and weeds on the south slope, and replace them with herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers such as sunflowers, calendula and nasturtiums. Businesses and community members donated compost, manure, and plant starts.

The Sept. 17 work party, which included Cornwall Church, put a fence around the south garden to ward off deer and create a trellis for peas or other climbing crops. The group also built picnic tables on a patch of gravel just east of the garden.

The PTA has big plans for that picnic area. Lee is working with two Bellingham businesses, TC Legend Homes and ITEK Energy, to build an outdoor classroom with solar panels. The energy from the solar panels could power lights for the gazebo-like classroom or go back to the electrical grid, which would result in a lower power bill for the school.

That’s not all. Lee is optimistic the school can get a grant from the city of Bellingham for a system that would collect rainwater from the school’s roof for watering the garden.

Common Threads Farm uses both the north and south gardens to teach students about healthy eating. Every student gets some gardening time about twice a month in the fall and spring, with the lessons focusing on cooking in winter.

“Hopefully, the children from the school will recognize where food comes from, and that it’s free,” Lee said. “All you need is dirt, seeds, sun and water.”

The lesson is especially relevant at Sunnyland, where 48 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 36 percent in all Bellingham schools.

“We don’t have to be rich to eat well,” Lee said.

1 Comment

  1. im a mom of a child at sunnyland coop preschool, but, im also a brista at a local starbucks some days we have too much grounds for gardens that i would like to give to all the bellingham schools or there gardens please contact me if you would like these items.

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