Free preschool garden program offered in Olympia

There were mint leaves to sniff, kale flowers to taste, bright red ladybugs to watch and moist dirt for preschoolers to plant seeds in at The Commons at Fertile Ground’s urban garden. Oh, and there were also garden stories to listen to, but by then, some of the kids were more interested in playing “don’t step on hot lava” with chunks of old sidewalk.

“It’s so sweet to have a free open space that the kids can explore that’s in the city,” said Leigha Pirkle, owner of Chickadees Day School, which brought 10 children to The Commons at Fertile Ground’s free preschool gardening program this week.

The Olympia-based nonprofit is hosting free activities for preschool-age children in its garden every Thursday morning through June 18. Child care centers, preschools and families are welcome to attend the 45-minute programs.

They’re among several events that the Olympia-based nonprofit has organized to invite the community into its space, according to garden manager Karen Ray. The Commons at Fertile Ground also plans to offer “Seed to Table” cooking and gardening camps for ages 5 to 12 this summer.

The main goals of the programs are to introduce children to gardening and healthful eating, Ray said.

“I want them to make the connection that their food comes out of a garden — their food comes out of the ground,” Ray said.

“If they help grow it, they will eat it.”

But the programs also are about garnering community support for the nonprofit, which would like to eventually purchase the house and three lots that it leases behind the Olympia Timberland Library, Ray said.

The preschool events include guided tours of the garden. Kristin Bindi, one of The Evergreen State College student interns who work in the garden, showed children iris flowers “that smell like root beer,” let them sample kale flowers, and encouraged them to taste some baby green and red leaf lettuce. They each got to pick a flower, too.

“I love this age because they’re so exploratory,” Bindi said.

Three-year-old Zoey Mathews said her favorite part of the program was eating the kale flowers. What did she think they tasted like?

“They tasted yellow,” she said. “Like rice cakes.”