Stephanie Butow began dreaming up a workplace garden 20 years ago.
Three years ago, she began work on the Kapowsin Elementary School PTA Giving Garden and Fruit Forest.
Last week Tacoma Garden Club honored her with its first Green Visionary Award.
“One of the core values of our Tacoma Garden Club is to be supportive of cutting-edge gardening ideas in our community,” club member Sue Stibbe told Butow at the club’s annual meeting. “We wish to recognize outstanding individuals who are working to do something unique and creative to enhance gardening and the care of the environment in our community.”
Butow, who lives in Seattle, has for 20 years been a social worker at Kapowsin Elementary School in Graham, and she admits the garden has a tinge of self-interest.
“I live in a city where land is scarce, and I work in the country, where there’s lots of land,” Butow said.
So there was garden dreaming, lots of it, on her commute.
“My dream was to encircle the school perimeter with espaliered fruit trees,” she said. “Asian pears, pears, plums, apples, frost peaches, golden and red raspberries, tons of strawberries, lots of vegetables and herbs and many different kinds of flowers.”
She’s specific because those pickable trees are all planted now, and the bushes, and the veggies in raised beds.
“About three years ago, a former PTA president, Alexis Derry, told me about a Washington State Potato Commission garden grant three days before the deadline,” she said. “I went to the kids, and in three days, they pumped out potato artwork and poems and put them in a scrap book.”
The book and the application brought in $1,000 and a greenhouse, which they could not put up on school grounds.
“We’ve written, and won, a lot of grants since then,” Butow said. “Welch’s Grape Juice for $200, Home Depot for $1,000, Lowe’s Toolbox for Education for $4,000. Many individuals have donated money, plants, tomato cages, used rain barrels. I take anything. Wood chips, horse manure.”
That includes advice from Master Gardeners, and support from school principal Machelle Beilke, staff and PTA members.
It’s paid off from the classroom to the lunchroom to the office where children go for help with their personal troubles.
Stibbe complimented team garden treasure hunts and vocabulary building exercises. She said the students write a Garden Gazette, composed a theme song, “We’re Out in the Garden,” and are experimenting at home with alternative garden containers and styles.
Students know their garden is a privilege, Butow said. “Their school work must be done. They have to earn it.”
Stibbe noted two programs, “Seeds of Tolerance” and “Cooperation Soup.”
“Students learn seeds come in many sizes, shapes and colors, and they have different habits – just like people. Like seeds, even though we have so many differences, we all produce something wonderful,” she said. “When it comes to the soup, kids learn to cooperate, and the final activity or reward is to make cooperation soup from the garden veggies and serve it to their classmates. The lessons feature cooperating as gardeners and cooks, and also how the weather and other aspects of nature cooperate in helping us grow food.”
They also follow food past the lunch table.
“We’ve done lessons on composting and worm bins and built four worm bins,” Butow said. “We did a waste audit, sorting through the garden to determine how much could be recycled and composted.”
The kids love it, she said.
“They say ‘This is funner than recess.’ They don’t have to compete. In the garden, it’s just between them and the plants. I’ve heard several times kids when they are sad or angry say, ‘I feel better now.’ I’ve had kids who are furious, and they are able to do that physical labor and get distracted. I’ve had kids sobbing. This one little girl just started singing.”
There’s one more thing this garden does for the students who tend it: It feeds them.
“The food goes to local students in need during the year, and we supplement holiday baskets with it,” Butow said.
“I also push the cart out when the buses come, and, oh my gosh, they mob it,” she said. “Even the chives.”
Are you and your employer up for the challenge of a workplace garden? If so, we want to hear from you.
Tell us the kind of space you have, the work you do, and why you think a garden is a good fit.
Let us know how you decided the size and form. Are you going raised bed or in-ground? What is your planting medium? Will you go with food, flowers or a combination? What will you do with the things you grow?
What’s your position on garden art? Do you fear gnomes? How about clown gnomes?
Over the summer, we will share tips and award prizes.