A local union steps forward to build a gardening shed at Woodstock Elementary School for student use

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Jesse Hunter, who is guiding the Woodstock School garden program, stands in front of the new garden shed built by Sisters in the Brotherhood. Also visible are the raised beds where students plant, and the pollinator garden.On a bright sunny Saturday morning in mid-March, eight women from "Sisters in the Brotherhood", a group within the NW Carpenters Union, were busy measuring and pounding nails into two-by-four boards to begin building a garden shed for Woodstock School.

These women are mentored by tradeswomen and carpenters. Desi Wright, representative for the Northwest Carpenters Union and a lead on the shed project, informed THE BEE that they work during the week, and on the weekends volunteer their labor for community projects.

This garden shed is the latest addition to the Woodstock Elementary School's garden program, which has been guided for five years by Jesse Hunter, Woodstock School second grade teacher.

Before arriving at Woodstock School in 2017, Hunter taught for ten years at Lent School, in the Lents neighborhood and also headed a garden program there. A garden shed was previously built at that Outer Southeast Portland school's garden with volunteer labor from Oregon Tradeswomen.

Hunter explained that the Oregon Tradeswomen were not available for the Woodstock shed project, so he contacted Sisters in the Brotherhood about it.

The two designers of the Lent shed were local retired carpenter/contractor Phil Wilson, and Tom Ralley, retired PSU math teacher and longtime volunteer at Lent School. The Woodstock garden shed was modeled after the one at Lent School. It will be a repository for garden tools and educational materials.

"We'll now have tools at the ready, when we need them," commented Hunter. "That will include garden tools, hand lenses, measuring tapes, clipboards, knee pads, insect identification cards, and graph paper."

The garden program at Woodstock gives students a chance to plant, nurture, harvest, and taste vegetables. When Hunter began teaching there he noticed that there were four raised beds in the front of the school. He became part of an effort to move the beds to the back west side of the school during a PPS Community Care Day. Soon after that, the PTA funded four more raised beds.

"I formed a garden committee of five parents and two teachers, to stay in close communication with Principal Johnson under the umbrella of the PTA. It takes a passionate person to lead, but the growth of the [Woodstock] garden program is only possible with the amazing help of teachers, parents, kids, community and the principal," Hunter remarked. "The garden program teaches kids applied math and science skills. In the outdoor classroom, they learn to care for a piece of land and understand plant life cycles, seed dispersal, pollination, and nutrition."

The program also received a grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District for a pollinator garden with labeled native plants.

Incidentally, the Woodstock garden program works closely with Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services, which reimburses the school up to $750 for the vegetables it receives from them. In May, a garden tasting event is held each year.

Hunter has posted a garden curriculum in a shared Google drive folder that reflects national general science core standards, and is available to all Woodstock School teachers. His wife, Anna Garwood, directs the nonprofit Growing Gardens Youth "Grow program", which teaches children how to grow, prepare, and learn to love eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Growing up in Hood River where his family always had a large vegetable garden bordered by a small orchard, Hunter is passionate about the value of gardening to teach students interdisciplinary skills, and have them become good stewards of the environment.

For more photos of the raised beds, the shed, and the school's pollinator garden, put "Woodstock school garden" into an Internet search box.

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