The late summer harvest was in full swing Thursday at the Olympia Kiwanis Club’s Food Bank Garden on the state’s east Capitol Campus.
In one hot, sweaty hour, two dozen second and third graders from nearby Lincoln Elementary School dug, pulled and prepared potatoes, carrots and onions for delivery to hungry families served by the Thurston County Food Bank.
The work party just a few blocks from the school grounds fit in nicely with the school’s educational theme this year, which is “Movers and Shakers.”
“It’s about how people can make a difference in their world by their actions,” Lincoln teacher Angela Leonard said as she dug into the dirt with her charges. “Community service is a big part of that. By the end of the school year, we hope the kids see themselves as movers and shakers.”
The youthful community service volunteers did plenty of moving and shaking Thursday, harvesting roughly 500 pounds of produce destined for the food bank.
The Kiwanis Club of Olympia has grown organic vegetables for the food bank for more than 22 years. The past three years, club members have converted eight giant concrete planter boxes on the east Capitol Campus into more than 26,000 square-feet of productive garden space. Students from nearby Lincoln are partners in the garden project. Eight of the kids this week were harvesting crops they helped plant last spring.
Working in a garden is old hat for the school children from Lincoln. They have a food bank garden on the school grounds, too.
While the students sat in the shade drinking water and eating a snack upon completion of their community service, Kiwanis Food Bank co-organizer Derek Valley asked them what else they saw in the garden besides vegetables. Bees, spiders, robins and blue jays were among the critters observed.
I asked them a question, too, pretty sure what the answer would be.
“What did you enjoy the most: Digging potatoes, pulling carrots or peeling onions?”
By a wide margin, potato-digging came out on top. And well it should. Digging potatoes is like a treasure hunt in the dirt. Or, as 8-year-old Elliott Merithew described it: “It’s like being a pirate and looking for golden balls.”
Golden was a fitting description because the variety of potato the kids harvested was German butterball, a light yellow-skinned potato with an even darker yellow flesh. It’s a versatile, disease-resistance potato that stores well and tastes good, too.
The students rotated through each vegetable station, discarding work gloves almost as quickly as they were dispensed. If I remember right, kids like the feel of dirt on their hands.
Over at the carrot patch, Violet Walters, 8, marveled at how easily the carrots pulled out of the ground.
“I got three with one pull,” said Amelie Forte, 7. Then she added: “I’ve been eating carrots ever since I was a baby.”
When she said that, a memory rushed back of me feeding pureed carrots to my kids 20-plus years ago, then watching them wear the orange goo on their clothes.
The potato station had the most tasks involved. While an adult loosened the soil, the students dug them up with their hands, placed them in a bucket and hauled them to a wooden-framed screen where another student or two rolled them around, knocking chucks of dirt off before placing them in 50-pound black tote bins.
The assembly line had its occasional fits and starts. “Bring those potatoes on in,” barked Ellinor Tyler, 8, during a lull in action at the screen.
Over at the onion-peeling station, some of the students needed a gentle reminder from Kiwanis garden co-organizer Don Leaf not to peel away too many layers of onion skin. Who hasn’t been guilty of this minor culinary crime?
After the kids walked back to school, I asked Leaf to sum up this year’s food bank garden efforts.
The overall production at the club’s three garden sites will be down slightly from the 30,000 pounds harvested last year. Squash production suffered from some cool, wet weather at planting time, but garlic and beans did really well.
All things considered it was a very successful work party. The students stayed on task with a minimum of distractions Five hundred pounds of produce for the food bank isn’t small potatoes.
... ... ...
Back by popular demand is the fall, water-wise plant sale hosted by the Native Plant Salvage Foundation 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 29, at 4131 Mud Bay Road W., which is home to the Washington State University Extension Office and Thurston County Parks and Recreation Department.
The sale features thousands of hard-to-find native and drought-tolerant plants for your fall landscaping projects. Trained folks will be on hand to offer personal advice about which plants best fit your needs to save water, attract birds and butterflies and reduce maintenance.
For more information, visit www.nativeplantsalvage.org.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444