Students benefit from planting and growing their own food, educators believe.

FILE PHOTO - Students led by garden volunteer Gail Christensen, center, prepare to plant onions in a raised garden bed at Otto Petersen Elementary School in Scappoose.School gardens are becoming a reality across western Washington County, as experts in the field focus on sustainable foods and healthy youth.

Rick Sherman, school gardens coordinator with the Oregon Department of Education, was in Forest Grove last week, discussing garden education at Neil Armstrong Middle School.

Sherman said Oregon was the first state to identify all of its school gardens, currently at 673 across the state.

"The only problem was the department found out that all of the school garden coordinators felt that they were all alone in operating the gardens," Sherman said.

A few years ago, the Department of Education started hosting a school garden summit. The summits have typically been hosted in the winter and draw an audience of about 400, many of which are school garden educators.

The next step was to create regional school garden hubs to better support neighborhood gardens, Sherman said.

Each hub concentrates on a variety of tasks. Some hubs choose to do school board reports, so they can showcase the learning opportunities for students.

"We started the first hub about four years ago in the Albany area and have since grown to a dozen hubs spread throughout Oregon. We've found that much more can get accomplished when folks gather together," Sherman remarked. "Accomplishing tasks when it's just one person can be a daunting task, but when a group of motivated individuals gather to accomplish something, they can move mountains."

The Forest Grove Garden Educators is one of these hubs.

"We're thrilled Forest Grove is a school garden hub, and I'm very proud that Forest Grove has more school gardens per student than anywhere in Oregon," said Robin Lindsley, member of the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission.

Forest Grove has just two gardens to develop in order to achieve parity between schools and gardens, at one garden per school, Lindsley said.

Three Community Enhancement Program grants have been awarded among the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission, Eden Acres and Dairy Creek Community Food Web to fund the school garden program in the past three years.

An additional three mini-grants have been awarded this year by the Sustainability Commission to schools in order to expand work on gardens.

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