Kids learning to garden at Toledo Elementary School can now be part of the full growing process, from seed to fruit, thanks to a new greenhouse built in the school’s garden.
The Toledo Learning Garden and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe hosted a ribbon-cutting and blessing for a new greenhouse on Saturday, Aug. 26, to celebrate the years of hard work that went into the greenhouse project and to spiritually prepare the space for new growth.
“What we’re going to do is just bless this wonderful, wonderful greenhouse and hopefully give it a fresh, energized start for its lifetime and what it’s going to do in the community,” said Cowlitz Indian Tribe Elder and Spiritual Leader Tanna Engdahl ahead of her spirit walk in the greenhouse with Cowlitz Indian Tribe Culture Board President John O’Brien on Saturday.
“We know that it will foster life, it will nurture growth and it will be part of all of you, especially the founders, who are going to launch it into the future for you to learn to grow along with it,” she said of the greenhouse.
The new greenhouse will allow Toledo students learning gardening through the school’s garden science classes to germinate seeds on-site instead of shipping them off after planting and picking them up when they are mature enough to transplant.
“It started really simply: We just wanted a spot to be able to grow seeds,” Toledo Learning Garden President Brooke Acosta said Saturday.
The Toledo Learning Garden runs as a partnership between the Toledo Learning Garden board, the Toledo School District and the Washington State University Master Gardeners Program to teach gardening to local kids.
Toledo Elementary School students go out into the garden once a month for a garden science class taught by Master Gardener Bob Taylor.
“They were teaching gardening, during school hours, to all the kids at the school, which is amazing. I don’t know of any other schools that are doing anything like that,” Acosta said.
Acosta first got involved in the Toledo Learning Garden in 2014, when her oldest son was in kindergarten.
Over the next several years, as she and the board worked to revamp the garden and establish a sponsorship program, Acosta said she began talking about the idea of building a greenhouse in the garden “to everyone.”
One day, she said, “This tiny woman who had been volunteering comes in and gives me a check. And it was a big check. And we hadn’t even started thinking about how we were going to fundraise for this project.”
That check jump-started the project, Acosta said. And as soon as the board started formal fundraising efforts, “Money really started pouring in,” she said.
While the board initially considered a smaller, less expensive greenhouse, the amount of money they were able to raise encouraged them to aim big and buy a large 24-by-48-foot greenhouse. The board didn’t have quite enough money for that model at the time, though, Acosta said, so they were looking into additional fundraising efforts when Acosta got an email from a parent who works for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. The parent told Acosta her son, Owen, a Toledo Elementary School student, had asked tribal leadership for their support for the greenhouse.
The Cowlitz Indian Tribe ultimately donated $20,000 for the project.
“The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is honored to support Toledo Elementary School as they provide children with meaningful learning experiences that go beyond the classroom,” General Council Chairwoman Patty Kinswa-Gaiser said in a prepared statement. “The new greenhouse will be a place for growth — both for plants and young minds as we work to foster a connection with the land and the food that sustains us.”
Money in hand, the Toledo Learning Garden board and volunteers purchased the greenhouse and got ready to build it, with plans to have it complete by the end of 2020.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, ultimately delaying construction by two years.
“It wasn’t the smoothest process. It was hard. It was really hard. And so many people in this community showed up for me, showed up for Pam (Meade), showed up because they believed in this project, and I just cannot thank you enough,” Acosta said.
Meade, a member of the Toledo Learning Garden board, took a moment Saturday to thank Acosta for her commitment to the project and to announce that the board had formally dedicated the garden to Acosta.
“It was her dream and I was very skeptical for a long time, like ‘it’s not going to happen.’ But she did it, and we did it together,” Meade said.
For more information on the Toledo Learning Garden, visit facebook.com/groups/266717444459498.
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