This past summer, Juneau got nearly 200 new gardeners. They were elementary school students who learned the ins and outs of growing their own food at summer camp.
Cold, gray winter may be settling on Juneau, but kids at Riverbend and Glacier Valley elementary schools are still talking about the rainbow of fruits and vegetables they helped grow this summer. Gold and purple potatoes, purple and orange carrots, red tomatoes.
Karen Goodell is director for after-school programming at the two schools, and she oversees their combined summer camp.
“The garden not only was a place for food production, but it was a great place to go hang out. The kids loved hanging out there, and they learned so much,” Goodell said.
The garden is a passion project for her. She said it gives kids a “friendlier” idea about healthy food.
“I think there were kids who were eating vegetables and fruits who would never typically do that. I mean, dirt and all, some of them,” she said.
Goodell said that’s because the kids feel connected to the food.
“It’s that sense of ownership,” she said. “If a kid has actually had their hands in the process of growing that carrot, they savor that carrot, because they own that carrot.”
A gardener herself, Goodell started the Riverbend garden three years ago. She wanted to create a hands-on learning experience for kids, and she hoped it would create community.
A student might struggle in the classroom. But in the garden, Goodell said, it could be a totally different picture.
“You saw kids who might not typically be invested in your standard school activity are now super-invested. And friendships that were formed that weren’t necessarily happening on the playground, but in the environment of the playground, were happening,” she said.
Last month, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources named Riverbend the winner of their “Farm to School Challenge.” Prizes included children’s books on gardening and some “Alaska Grown” swag. Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted her congratulations.
Congrats to Riverbend Elementary School in Juneau for winning the Alaska DNR Farm to School Challenge & to all schools who participated. Riverbend was chosen for their diversity of crops & their inclusion of many from the school staff and the Juneau community. Well done everyone! pic.twitter.com/xDdtUxDhb8
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) November 16, 2018
Goodell said it’s nice to be recognized. She has big dreams of expanding the garden project. Maybe one day Juneau could grow its own produce.
“In the meantime, we’ve got our future, which are the kids, who are learning more about that possibility,” she said. “So even on smaller scales, if they ended up having their own personal gardens in their own homes as they move forward, I feel like we’ve made a big contribution to their well-being.”
Goodell said planning for next summer’s garden will begin in the new year.