Lynden community pitches in to create a green space

LYNDEN — The new Fisher school on 14th Street features 28 classrooms, a new gymnasium and a commons area. And as of Saturday, March 10, the 450 students of the first-year elementary building have their very own on-site garden.

It was a showing of community support and volunteers that helped the vision of Fisher Elementary School principal Courtney Ross come to reality. Ross made it a priority to include the garden space when planning for the new school.

“I’ve always wanted to provide an outdoor classroom, a more outdoor educational experience for students,” Ross said. “Also, that kind of farm-to-table connection is so valuable to teach our kids, especially in a community with an agriculture backbone to it.”

A $2,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation provided the start-up money.

But it was the work of about 30 resident and AmeriCorp volunteers on that sunny Saturday that helped to build raised beds, and dig, plant and spread soil on the plot of land next to the playground on the west side of the school building.

“The gardens that thrive are the ones embraced by the community,” said Laura Plaut, founder and director of Common Threads. “Clearly, that’s what’s happening here.”

Westside Building Supply donated lumber, Maberry Packing offered berry plants and Bedlington Farms and Smit’s Dairy Compost pitched in the soil. Casa Bella Construction donated their labor and helped to build garden-bed frames.

The Parent-Teacher Association also played an integral role in securing donations from the community.

The new garden space features recycled benches crafted from telephone poles taken from the fairgrounds and flooring from the former Radio Shack store in the Fairway Center.

And donated raspberry, blueberry and strawberry plants and a pear tree now stand rooted in Fisher soil and will continue to grow.

Other fruits, vegetables and herbs that are planted will be harvestable early in the 2018-19 school year.

Along with the new garden comes a meaningful curriculum facilitated by local nonprofit Common Threads. Fisher has partnered with the organization throughout the planning process that began in December.

For months already, AmeriCorps volunteer Alyssa Stewart has visited the school, giving cooking lessons and teaching other garden-centric curriculum to students.

Common Threads Farm was founded in 2006 in Bellingham. The organization “promotes a seed-to-table approach to food production, good nutrition and environmental stewardship,” according to its website.

Most of Common Threads’ work (aligned with Next Generation Science Standards) can be found in public-school settings and in collaboration with school staff around the county. The local staff has worked with students in gardens at Kendall Elementary School in Maple Falls and a number of green spaces in Bellingham.

This spring, students begin transitioning their lessons with Stewart outdoors. Children will venture outside every other week for a garden lesson.

Learning will include gardening basics, planting seeds, watering, harvesting the food and then eating what was grown.

“I think that food is a great catalyst to bringing people together,” Ross said. “This is a great way to teach that from the beginning. To have that connection as well as the outdoor education are so valuable for students.”

Another work party is planned for Saturday, March 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Fisher Elementary School, 501 N. 14th St.

Tasks that remain to be completed include building a compost system, installing a drip irrigation system and laying down cardboard and wood chips over grass to help prevent weed growth between the garden beds.

Fisher is still taking donations for garden tools and a watering system.

“In general, I think I’ve seen something special about the Lynden community,” Stewart said. “It feels different than other communities I’ve done this type of work with. Everyone has been willing to help out and make sure we’re setting up a sustainable space for their kids to learn and grow.”