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The little garden that helps children grow

By on July 29, 2019 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Dawn likes to give her young gardeners the chance to express their opinions and feel relaxed. She is there to instruct, but not to rule.

story and photos

By Jaana Hatton

Dawn Jensen-Nobile knows what she is doing every Friday and Saturday afternoon: lead her small group of budding agriculturists. The backyard of her South Wenatchee home has become a community garden. 

“It started last winter,” Dawn said. “Annabelle (one of the children) came to help me shovel snow. Later on in the spring, I helped her look for her run-away dog. As we chatted, the idea of a garden came up.”

I came to know Dawn through a Baha’i friend of mine — they attend the same religious meetings. Much of the community garden idea is based on Dawn’s faith.

She explained that in the Baha’i faith there is a principle that calls for attention to what is needed now, in reality — not to be guided by some old theory that is no longer relevant, but to address current needs. 

“I felt there was a need for these kids to have something to do,” Dawn said. 

She asked the kids, who are elementary school students, first to see if they were interested in a community garden. They were, and after asking their parents, Dawn got the work started.

They got off to a slightly late start in May 2019, as far as planting goes, but the enthusiasm made up for lost time. 

Dawn purchased three inexpensive wooden raised beds, which the group put together and filled with soil, then in went the seeds. 

Now, two months later, the zucchini plant is pushing out a nice crop and the tomatoes are producing with good volume. The kohlrabi grows in its own container, proudly like a queen overlooking the rest of the vegetable kingdom. Carrots are off to a good start with a profusion of tiny starts needing thinning out: a perfect job for tiny hands. Cilantro and other herbs are already mature and ready to be used. 

Dawn oversees each session, giving guidance — but also a lot of freedom for the kids to make decisions and work together. 

“This gardening project is a chance for the kids to relax, to express their opinions and learn social interaction. And patience,” Dawn said. 

While serving on the Ten Rivers Food Web, Dawn learned many useful ways of sharing resources and cooperation. However, she is not interested in working for an organization that is grant-dependent: it takes the focus off the cause and emphasizes funding, instead. She simply wants to help people to find a common goal and a way to reach it.

“One person can make a difference,” Dawn said. 

Annabelle (with the hoodie over her head) and Shanaya share the popular job of watering.

Clearly the small garden in her backyard has made a difference for the group of neighborhood kids, whom arrive sometimes six-strong, other times just a couple. 

They are not required to come — Dawn has opened her doors and gates and leaves the kids to make the choice of attending, or not.

“Just recently, they came four times during the morning, to see if it was time yet,” Dawn said with a chuckle.

Starting time on Fridays is 4 p.m. and on Saturdays they meet at noon.

“The gardening activity really is a metaphor for life,” Dawn pointed out. 

It certainly is; planting the seeds, taking the responsibility to help them grow and finally, reaping the results, as we do in life. We plan and work for something, put our energies into it and in time, reach our goal. 

Dawn’s young group of green-thumb apprentices don’t realize what valuable life-lessons they are learning as they water, weed and share the tasks on their backyard plantation. 

Dawn helps out a little on the side by doing the more demanding tasks. Here she is carefully transplanting tiny carrot starts into a deeper container from the vegetable bed.

I asked the kids what they liked the most about their project. Annabelle said she likes the teamwork best. For Shanaya, it’s teamwork and planting. Lupe likes what comes at the end: cucumbers. Nino enjoys having a “farm.” Kyla likes planting the most, like her sister Shanaya. 

An undertaking such as growing vegetables is no one-time event. It takes constant care and nurturing. 

Now, two months into tending to their vegetable patch, Dawn’s group shows no weariness of it; rather, they run into her house full of excitement and ready to see what needs doing in the backyard. This is how patience is learned — and eventually, rewarded.

Sometimes a plant fails, and that is no small matter. 

When I was visiting, Dawn had to dig up a potato plant that had gone rotten. It happens. The gardening group gathered around the spot as if for a funeral, with disappointment on their quiet faces. This, too, happens in life; we don’t always succeed — but we do keep going. Just like the rotten potato plant that found a new home and a new life in the compost pile.

The garden also boasts two rather fancy additions: two lavender plants are putting in their roots in a sunny spot. They are a gift from Joseph Downs, a local lavender farmer who owns the Lavender Farm in East Wenatchee and the Lavender Ranch at Crescent Bar. 

(Find out more about the Lavender Man at www.thelavenderboutique.net.)

It takes little money and resources to make a difference in life. Mostly, it requires the willingness to do so. 

I can’t wait to see what Dawn’s once bare backyard has to offer when harvest time arrives. It has made all the difference already to six young gardeners.

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