Standing near the green beans that tower over her and her little sister, McKenzie said she wants to be a teacher “to help other people learn.”
Her little sister Gracie meanwhile has more immediate interests – eating her cereal with blueberries from the garden.
“The Garden” is where the TREE “edible education” program involves a number of local children on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. behind the Community Center in Tillicum.
In its third season, TREE grows not only beets, peppers, snap peas, carrots, tomatoes, raspberries, parsley and kale – TREE also grows “food ambassadors,” children whose patient planting and watering have not only weeded out the unwanted from the dirt but made them nutrition-conscious in their diet. They learn about and grow foods that are most certainly not fast food items, although the green beans do grow fast.
“I am thankful for the plants because they give us good food to eat,” read one of the carefully penned cards tied to the “gratitude” fence bordering the garden.
Soon to be third-grader Natelli Socia proudly displayed her prize-winning photograph of the sun filtered by garden leaves and the ribbons she’d received for it from the County Fair.
Natelli said she hasn’t missed a day. Among the reasons that make her as much a fixture in the garden as the growing things themselves: “finding new bugs, seeing my friends, and learning about new plants like Orange Mint.”
Camila admits being torn between playing baseball with the boys in the field adjoining the garden and being in the garden but will wait to turn in her pink and yellow “Little Kitty” garden gloves for a baseball mitt and lay down her garden spade to pick up a baseball bat. She’s looking forward to the end of season party where her parents will be invited to eat what Camila and her friends have grown.
Signs are everywhere announcing what is to be found on feast day that is currently hidden beneath the foliage. Corn, onions, yellow summer squash and Black Beauty eggplant, sunflowers-to-be and corn-on-the-way are in neat raised-bed rows waiting to be harvested. “Healthy brain and healthy aging,” the eggplants promise.
Bales of hay in a half semi-circle form the meeting place where chief gardener and cheerleader extraordinaire StephanieCholmondeley enthusiastically holds aloft yet another of the crayon-colored, construction-paper-scrawled parent invitations to the Garden Party. “This is beautiful! Oh my goodness! This is beautiful!” Cholmondeley could double as a director of an orchestra if it weren’t for her “I love it, I love it, I love it” greater love for gardening. Effervescent in voice and gesture, it’s doubtful the gardening-guru could talk if her hands were tied.
“The light that comes on in their eyes,” Cholmondeley says, waving her hand as if it were her wand over her young Ph.D.’s, scientists, researchers and investigators – which is how she describes the fledgling growers of good things to eat – “is why I do this.”
Noemi’s “Garden Star of the Week” certificate confirms that what is being grown in this garden isn’t just consumables. “Successfully demonstrating friendliness, kindness, niceness, gratitude, responsibility, respect, and caring” is a suitable-for-framing award the children receive for being “a Rainbow in The Garden and Outside the Garden.”
The Tillicum TREE program received its own award, recognized by the Pierce Conservation District as the 2013 “Community Garden of the Year.”
“My friends are here,” reads the common theme on the cards tied to the “gratitude” fence.
Lots of greens. Lots of grins. TREE is a gathering and gardening place. It’s where the community gets together and great things grow. Vegetables too.