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Students spend summer hours tending garden for food bank

Student volunteers Alicia Malavolti, 15, left, and Elizabeth Lefstad, 15, check out the results of their gardening efforts, including the cucumber Elizabeth felt was ready for picking. - TOM CORRIGAN The Marysville Globe
Student volunteers Alicia Malavolti, 15, left, and Elizabeth Lefstad, 15, check out the results of their gardening efforts, including the cucumber Elizabeth felt was ready for picking.
— image credit: TOM CORRIGAN The Marysville Globe

MARYSVILLE On this particular day, the group gathered to tend the garden plot across the street from Sunnyside Nursery is a small one.

Nevertheless, as they pull weeds from the muddy field, they voice plenty of enthusiasm. After a month or so of work, today might be the first time they have enough mature vegetables to pick off the vines and stalks and take to the Marysville Food Bank.

"I can't wait to harvest some of it," said student volunteer Elizabeth Lefstad, 15.

Elizabeth had earlier talked about how it was interesting to have watched the vegetables emerge from seeds and starter plants and to know she had a big hand in making the garden grow.

Like the other volunteers, Elizabeth is a student at Marysville-Pilchuck High School's International School of Communications. The budding garden is the result of a collaboration between the school and Sunnyside Nursery, which provided space for the garden along with donating seeds, plants and water.

""You've definitely got some nice cucumbers there," announces nursery owner Steve Smith as he walks up to watch the proceedings. "It was all I could do not to pick one."

Marysville-Pilchuck teacher Emily Lefstad agrees with his cucumber assessment. An experienced gardener, she helped organize the student team tending the garden, including daughter Elizabeth.

"It's been interesting because a lot of them have never done anything in a garden before," Lefstad said.

"I don't do anything in the summer anyway," said volunteer Alicia Malavolti, 15, in explaining why she is down on her knees in the mud early on a warm, sunny day. She said she always wanted to do some volunteer work anyway and growing food for the local food bank seemed like a worthy cause.

"It's good for the community and I thought why not," said Jesse Quinn, 16, on this day the only male student on duty at the garden.

Now that the garden has begun to mature, the volunteers gather at least once a week on Monday mornings, with weeding being the main task at hand.

"For the first couple of weeks, we were here everyday," Jesse said.

Smith said a former nursery employee used to grow a garden for the food bank every year producing up to a couple of thousand pounds of donated produce every year. The employee has moved on and the original garden space is now a greenhouse. But Smith owns land across 40th Street NE from his business on Sunnyside Boulevard.

"We just thought let's see if we can't get the food bank garden going again," he said. His first step was an e-mail to the school.

Lefstad said she and fellow teacher Greg Blake took up the cause and found about 30 young volunteers. Some of the kids come and go, Lefstad said, but there have been enough dedicated students to make the project go.

In between lots of talk about video games, the students said the biggest challenge at first was separating out the young plants from the weeds.

"We thought the corn was just grass at first," Elizabeth said.

Besides contributions from Sunnyside, the garden got help from other local businesses and contractors, who tilled the soil and created the raised rows now starting to fill with budding vegetables. Alicia comments that despite the smell, she didn't mind spreading the donated fertilizer at first.

"Then I realized my hand smelled like the fertilizer," she said.

Both Smith and Lefstad said the group got kind of a late start on the garden due to heavy rains that kept hitting the area early in the summer. They still planted some tomatoes and corn, hoping for a long summer that could lead to harvesting in the early fall. The garden is also replete with growing squash, carrots, beans, radishes, eggplant and pumpkins.

Smith has agreed to keep the garden going for now and Lefstad talked about planting some items in the fall for an early harvest next spring.

"It's been a learning process for these kids, finding out what it actually takes to get something on your plate," Lefstad said.

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