School garden expands

It’s not uncommon to see kids at à cole Alberni Elementary School munching on kale chips for a recess snack in the winter, says the school principal.

Kale, the leafy green vegetable packed with nutrients, is grown as part of the Alberni Elementary School Garden Project, which is in its fourth year. The project’s coordinator is looking to expand to another school in the district this year.

Each class in the kindergarten to Grade 5 school plants a section of the gardens, built in the yard against the wall of the school. Garden plots are harvested the following year. Kale, in particular, grows well in cooler months and actually tastes sweeter after exposure to a frost.

“[Students] just go and help themselves,” said Alberni Elementary principal Laurie Morphet. “It really encourages healthy eating, and trying newer vegetables that you wouldn’t normally eat.”

Classes sign up for a garden plot and some are more enthusiastic than others, she added. Everyone is in charge of weeding at different times.

It teaches children to look after the environment, said Morphet.

The school has also introduced composting.

“We’ve got some mega composters now,” she said. “The kids are in charge of rotating it. They love to do that.”

Dirt produced by the compost is used to nourish the garden. Students enjoyed the fall harvest this month and planted seeds for the winter.

“They harvested two weeks ago for the open house and the kids made soup,” Morphet said.

Parents also got involved to put hay over the garden.

Heather Shobe, who owns and operates Eden Tree Farm and Gardening in Beaver Creek, also coordinates the Alberni Elementary School Garden Project.

Shobe sent a letter to the Alberni School District and spoke to the board at their Oct. 7 meeting.

Shobe said volunteers have carried out a great deal of management for the school gardens; more dedicated time and funding is required.

“We have successfully fundraised to create raised beds, install irrigation, obtain some required tools and are managing to continue to maintain the gardens through volunteer effort,” Shobe wrote in an email to the school board. “After four years, it is clear that a more comprehensive management plan is needed.” The Alberni Valley Transition Towns Society, which is a community-based network interested in promoting environmental education and initiatives, expressed interest in helping to fund a coordinator for the district, Shobe noted.

At $25 an hour for four hours per week, it would cost about $4,000 per year.

Shobe met with the parent advisory council of à cole E.J. Dunn Middle School.