The outdoor living classroom and garden at Evergreen Elementary School in north Spokane got a face-lift Friday when a dozen employees from Northwest Farm Credit Services in Airway Heights gathered to rake, pull weeds and lay down fresh bark.
In addition, the company also donated $10,000 that will be used to maintain the outdoor space. “This is the hugest gift to have Northwest Farm Credit support us,” said Principal Mike Danford. “I don’t even know what to say. We’ve never had this kind of help.”
Teachers and parents have helped maintain the garden here and there, but there has been little money to spend on the effort. Danford said he usually does a lot of the work and he was front and center Friday, blowing the pavement clear of debris and pulling weeds.
The cash donation allowed Danford to purchase bark and a new weed barrier to be put under a pair of picnic tables so they wouldn’t get blocked off by weeds any more. Danford said it was strange to go out and just buy what he wanted. “In my world, in education, are you kidding me?” he said.
Northwest Farm Credit employee Kaihla Zanol said it’s tradition for each team at her company to select a volunteer project each year. The project at Evergreen Elementary was selected by the team. “We kind of surveyed the group,” she said. “We work with Mike’s wife. She just gave us some inspiration.”
Once the project is selected, Northwest Farm Credit donates the time of their employees and also makes a cash donation, Zanol said. “As part of their 100 percent committed program, they encourage each team to pick a project,” she said. “It’s just cool to be a part of a company that does work like this.”
The living classroom includes a meandering path, native grasses and plants, trees and an area with large rocks to sit on. There’s a picnic area off to the side that also doubles as a classroom. A couple spots are butterfly gardens, planted with flowering plants that butterflies love.
Zanol said some of the volunteers were making sure the paths were clear of weeds and debris so they would be ADA accessible. One group worked to install weed barriers under the picnic tables and another cleared a small patch of ground for a new butterfly garden.
Throughout the morning groups of students would come out to help, donning gloves to help pull weeds. “It’s really fun to come out and see their passion for this area,” Zanol said.
Northwest Farm Credit employee Tim Byrd introduced himself to some of the students as they helped him pull weeds, who thought his last name was funny. One student asked him where his feathers were. “I only grow them in the winter to keep warm,” he replied.
Byrd said he was enjoying his time at the school. “This is fun,” he said.
One of the classes to come out and help was Laurie Adams’ first and second grade combination class, which Danford said wasn’t surprising given her longtime involvement in the project. “She has had her hands in it the whole time,” he said. “She, out of all the teachers, has used this space.”
Danford said the money donated by Northwest Farm Credit will allow the living classroom and garden to be well maintained for years. It may even fund some improvements. “We have ideas of expanding our sprinkler system and new native grasses,” he said. “That’s going to last.”