SANDPOINT — Kids are rarely thrilled about eating vegetables — except maybe when they grow their own.
Michele Murphree, coordinator for the Edible Schoolyard Garden Project, said Southside is the only elementary school in the Lake Pend Oreille School District without a garden, but not for long. At the end of April, Southside will get its own garden and complete the circle of school plots for local youth to grow vegetables.
"I'm really excited," Murphree said. "Southside has wanted a garden for a long time and a lot of the teachers are really excited to participate."
She said the gardens started out as a small project seven years ago, and since then, a new garden has sprouted at a different school each year. The other seven schools where Murphree has built gardens include Hope, Kootenai, Northside, Washington, Farmin Stidwell, Sagle and Forrest M. Bird Charter School.
Murphree said she had just retired when a friend of hers suggested starting a school garden. Murphree thought, "Hey, that's not going to take much time," but she may have underestimated the project.
"I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into, but it's just been such a joyful project" Murphree said. "And watching these kids all work together, yelling 'I love kale' and so many different stories, and now they are all growing up — I just really, really love the idea of teaching these kids how to grow their own healthy food."
There are many different aspects to gardening, so the kids learn about planting and maintaining the gardens, harvesting and preparing food, and they engage in teamwork. Murphree said she loves how the older kids help the younger kids.
"And then it translates into going home and (the kids) starting gardens at home," Murphree said. "There is a significant hunger problem in this county and many other counties, so I think this is a step, at least, in the right direction."
When it started, Murphree said they had the kids making the decisions on what to grow, but with such a short growing season, it was a difficult endeavor. Since the students are not to keen on going to the school throughout the summer to take care of the garden, she said they typically plant a fall harvest in the spring. Some of the vegetables they grow include potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, kale and chard.
For the last four years, the local Elks Lodge has provided a $2,000 grant each year, which has funded materials and supplies needed for four school gardens. Murphree said they even build the raised garden beds for her. They are an "amazing group of individuals," Murphree said.
The Bonner County Gardeners Association has an expert assigned to each of the schools to do some teaching themselves, but also to help the teachers with curriculum. She said the school district has been very supportive throughout the projects as well. Without BCGA, Murphree said the school gardens would not be a sustainable project.
"I just love how the community has really come together to embrace this ... it's just something really positive for our kids and positive for the community," Murphree said.
Murphree has two other projects coming up at the end of the month as well. The Bonner County Health Coalition team will build community gardens at Early Head Start and the Bonner Community Food Bank. If all goes as scheduled, the Early Head Start garden will go up on April 21 and the food bank garden on April 29.
"I'm really excited about going into the food bank," Murphree said. "I think that's going to be so awesome for their clients to get out there and learn how to garden and get some good organic produce. And I think the Early Head Start is going to be a lot of fun, too."
Mary Malone can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.