Oregon’s first regional school garden hub had its first official gathering Sept. 17 and 18: a garden-themed open house complete with a lunch of fresh garden snacks.
The first day, visitors were invited to check out the greenhouse and orchard at Memorial Middle School, tour a rain garden at Albany Options School, have a school garden lunch at Sunrise Elementary School and visit with Sunrise’s after-school garden club.
On the second day, visitors were invited to see gardens at Lebanon schools.
Rick Sherman, who coordinates the school garden and Farm to School programs at the Oregon Department of Education, helped organize both the regional hub and its first major event.
When he joined the state department office in 2012, he said, the first question he received was, “How many school gardens are there in Oregon?”
“Not only did nobody know the answer to this, I discovered that it was a very difficult question to answer,” he said in a statement to the Democrat-Herald. “Furthermore, I was told by some people that I shouldn’t bother trying to find out, as this would be too difficult to find out. Never tell me I shouldn’t do something! I embarked on a quest to figure this out by calling each and every school in Oregon.”
Turns out Oregon currently has 516 school gardens, including 25 total between the Albany, Lebanon, Harrisburg, Jefferson, Sweet Home, Central Linn and Santiam Canyon school districts. The mid-valley districts comprise the new Linn County Regional School Garden Hub, Sherman said.
Last week’s open house didn’t attract a crush of people, Sherman acknowledged — perhaps two dozen at different locations through the course of the days — but it was an important first step for the group, he said.
Mayor Sharon Konopa of Albany was one of the visitors the first day, dining on heirloom tomatoes, chard, spinach and other salad greens grown at various school gardens in Albany.
“I’d like to give a shout-out to Sodexo, the food service provider at Greater Albany Public Schools,” Sherman said. “This is the first time they’ve featured produce from the school gardens at lunch. They stepped it up, and we feel it’s the start of a wonderful partnership.”
Representatives from the regional hub met a handful of times over the summer and some toured each other’s gardens, Sherman said. The next step will be to make presentations to various school boards to make them aware of the garden programs.
“This pilot group is now very well connected across the county and has a strong support system,” he said. “This is the first regional school garden hub of many to come.”