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Sprouts of help for Federal Way families

Melissa Stanley, PTA president, shows a class of second-graders what an onion looks like when pulled from the ground. - Courtesy of Multi-Service Center
Melissa Stanley, PTA president, shows a class of second-graders what an onion looks like when pulled from the ground.
— image credit: Courtesy of Multi-Service Center

Students at Nautilus Elementary School in Federal Way are learning valuable lessons in organic gardening and nutrition, while also helping to serve families in need.

The student garden is in its second season at Nautilus, and chard, cilantro and artichokes already flourish, while additional tiny seedlings jut from the ground promising a hearty crop of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peas and more. Some produce will be used in classroom demonstrations of salad bars and salsa-making, but the remainder will make its way to Multi-Service Center’s Food Bank to feed local families.

The garden is a labor of love started by PTA president Melissa Stanley, with the guidance of Mike Stanley (no relation), director, Federal Way Community Garden Foundation, who designed the garden in a series of raised beds that are easily accessible by people of all ages.

With plans in hand, the garden quickly blossomed into reality, thanks to community support. Aided by a grant from BECU, and fundraising by the PTA, parents, teachers and other volunteers built the beds, while the Marine Hills Garden Club and the Pierce County Master Gardener Propagation Group donated seedlings.  “The main motivation for this garden was to have the kids get excited about gardening and nutrition. Plus, there’s so much they could do with outdoor science as well,” said Melissa.

Already, students are responding with delight to the garden. “One girl told me she had so much fun in the garden that she started a small garden at her home,” Melissa said with a smile.

On a recent sunlit morning, Mrs. Kay’s second grade class spent time in the garden with barely contained enthusiasm as they wielded spades and plunked tomato plants into holes. Nearby, another group from the class squealed over finding worms wriggling in compost bins, while their classmates sampled cilantro (yum!) and chard (eeyiooo!) from the abundant plants.

The students’ planting of tomatoes and onions will go a long way come harvest time. Last year, the garden yielded 125 potato sacks of produce donated to the food bank.

Fresh produce is a highly coveted item at the food bank, says Terri Turner, director, MSC Food and Clothing Banks.

“We all know how important it is to have fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets, and families who use the food bank are no different in needing healthy food,” said Turner. “People are thrilled with produce and they appreciate what we can offer, but we often have only limited quantities available.”

“That’s why what students at Nautilus are doing is so meaningful to the community,” she added.

Other local gardeners contribute, as well, each summer. “If you can, consider growing an extra row in your garden just for the food bank, or if you only want to give us your excess zucchini, that’s great too. Really, whether it’s a bushelful of something, or only a handful, it will all be used to feed hungry local families,” Turner added.

To donate produce to MSC’s Food Bank, bring items to the warehouse, located behind the main program building at 1200 S. 336th Street, Federal Way, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call Turner at (253) 838-6810.

 

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