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Children and garden are growing together

POULSBO — The dream of the workers in John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men,” is to find themselves a small parcel “ ... an’ live on the fatta the lan.’”

For the kids of Kitsap County, Poulsbo’s Raab Park Youth Garden shows them that with a little dirt, seeds, a shovel or two, and with tender gardening care, they can do just that.

No matter how small or how young, the Kitsap County Master Gardeners have, for the seventh straight year, planted the garden full of various vegetables that seem to grow faster than the children themselves.

But the Master Gardeners take no credit for the garden’s success — it’s truly the children who make it happen, they say.

“It’s so exciting,” said Margaret Atwood, one of the garden gurus who works through the Washington State University extension program. “Even the smallest kids that can hardly walk are gardening.”

Each Monday, the gardeners host a wide range of activities, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the youngsters to take part. Last Monday, activity was using old worn sneakers as planters.

“They provide the shoe, we provide the plant,” said Atwood, who added the lesson received was that, “It shows you can garden in containers of any sort.”

Even though it’s only July, the garden had produced a few turnips and other vegetables, which the master gardeners take to Fishline Food Bank for those who need it most. Sharing the garden’s produce is one of the many lessons learned by the children.

The garden is also the only one of its kind in Kitsap County, and Master Gardeners noted that hundreds of youngsters and their parents, from Port Orchard to Hansville, make the trek to tend the soil each Monday morning.

“It’s an opportunity to play in the dirt and for kids to see the growing cycle,” mentioned first year Master Gardener Barb Rudolph. “This is a real jewel up here.”

And what do the children like best about the garden?

“My favorite thing is looking at all the flowers,” said 7-year-old Aubrey Gelpieryn.

“My favorite is watering all the flowers,” quipped her sister, Chloe.

Some of the older kids also learn of the virtues of helping others, and as they learn to care for the garden, they’re often right there with toddler- and kindergarden-aged youngsters, showing them how to water and perform basic maintenance. Though they’re older, their interests at the garden are basically the same.

“My favorite thing is to sit on the rocks and play with the little kids,” said 9-year-old Griffin Crisp. “But what they like to do is what I like to do.”

There is perhaps no one more experienced with the children’s garden than gardening expert Allen McKibben, whose involvement spans five years.

“I just like working with the kids,” said McKibben, who lives near Keyport. “Kids, kids, kids. They’re ain’t nothin’ better than kids.”

The greatest message of all, he said, was that of passing on the gardening knowledge to the next generation.

“These kids need family playtime and they need to know about the environment,” McKibben said. “When we’re gone, they’re gonna have to take care of it.”

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