Lynette Romney is making a big difference in the community of Spokane Valley. As coordinator for the East Valley Farm to School and Community Garden, she works with students and teachers from East Valley High School, East Valley Middle School, Harmony High School and A New Journey Middle School to grow food for Second Harvest food bank.
It all started four years ago when Romney was sitting in a committee meeting about making school food taste better. “We have four farms in the district and we have so much land here,” she said. “I wondered why we weren’t growing our own produce. It turns out (assistant principal) John Savage had been wanting to do this for ages so we got a committee together and here we are.”
“Here” is a 5-acre piece of land at the corner of Sullivan Road and Wellesley Avenue. In addition to being used to grow vegetables for the food bank, there are sections for growing wheat, cover crops to return nutrients to the soil, and raised beds for class programs and family garden plots.
The garden was first planted in 2010 and they grew 4,000 pounds of produce for the food bank. Last year, they grew 2,000 pounds. “It’s been a real learning process for us,” Romney said. “This year, we have scaled back and are trying to go for quality, not quantity. We’re growing tomatoes, broccoli, corn, peppers, carrots, beets, squash and beans.”
The botany and horticulture teachers at the schools have moved toward a focus on agriculture. The students start the plants from seed in their greenhouse. Romney teaches them how to plant the seedlings in the garden. As the students work in the garden, their class lessons become more relevant and they learn about giving back to their community.
During a recent visit to the garden, I had the opportunity to talk with three students from A New Journey middle school.
Elisabeth Meyer enjoys her time in the community garden each week. “I really love this garden. Just knowing you’re planting something that is going to the food bank makes me feel good. I love having my hands in the dirt, too.”
In between planting broccoli seedlings, Zack Tautz added, “I like helping out and would like to have a garden at home. I want to grow tomatoes, zucchini and herbs.”
Gage Lookebill, who grows pumpkins at home, has enjoyed coming out to the community garden during the school year. “This is a huge garden that takes a lot of work, but I just like helping people.”
The biggest challenge in the garden is keeping on top of the weeds. Romney points out that this is where volunteers can really make a difference.
She has found the outpouring of support from the community very gratifying.
“Our goals were to educate the kids and feed the kids and their families,” Romney said. “But the way the community came together was a side benefit that far exceeded our expectations. We could not be here without our community.”
For those interested in getting a community garden started at their school, Romney has this advice:
“Do it! Don’t worry about the noes. There will always be the detractors but don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Figure out another way to do it.”