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West Valley City Journal

Fall fundraiser helps keeps garden alive for schoolchildren

Nov 03, 2017 01:35PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Families gather to celebrate fall at the Dancing Moose Montessori School. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

Students, parents and community members participated in the 2017 Scarecrow Festival to raise money for the non-profit garden run at the campus of Dancing Moose Montessori School in West Valley. 

“It’s amazing, it’s funding a good thing, which is the garden, we love the garden program,” said Stephanie Beck, whose child has attended the school for the last two years. 

Each classroom picks a scarecrow theme and parents donate items for the decorations to make the scarecrow or baskets of goodies that are part of a silent auction. Local businesses such as Hale Center Theater also contributed to the silent auction. Over 500 people participated in the festival which included a pumpkin patch, games, face painting and chili made by the on-site chef. 

“It’s so much fun. We’re just doing the carnival games and having a good time,” said Beck. 

Kids at the Dancing Moose Montessori School have the opportunity to learn about organic gardening in their half-acre community garden. 

“The garden and Montessori are just two peas in a pod,” said Nichole Matthews, the teacher in charge of the gardens, “There’s so much in terms of what we practice in peacefulness, respect for your environment and staying healthy, so they really just go hand in hand.”

The garden began in 2011 and consists of 48 raised growing beds that measure 4 feet by 12 feet each. The school partners with Wasatch Community Gardens for help and advice as well as offers beds to rent to family, businesses and other community members for $65 per season, which runs from March to October. 

“A few years after beginning the school, the director who has a background in farming, thought it was going to be important to have a garden as part of the Montessori education,” said Matthews, who graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in environmental studies and sustainability. 

The students plant perennials that produce fruit, vegetables and flowers and during the summer there are programs that help them learn and work. During the rest of the year, students tend the garden at least once a week, rain or shine. A garden house has been built off to the side to hold classes and activities when it’s too wet or cold outside. The Montessori campus in Riverton also has space for gardens for their students to plant and learn in 2 foot by 2 foot plots. 

“If there’s something specific happening in the environment, then that’s something that I’ll discuss with them in terms of the water cycle or beneficial insects,” Matthews said. “We talk about respecting other living things and everything having a space. There’s so many different lessons that we incorporate into the garden.”

The garden uses a drip system that automatically waters for the students and community plots so that some families only have to visit to check up and weed or plant once a week. Garden tools are also provided by the school for anyone who rents a plot, though seeds and fertilizer are not provided. Any spot not rented by the community is planted for the school where the kids have the chance to plant, weed, harvest, check for bugs and eat anything that grows. 

Cucumbers, tomatoes and other greens can be picked and eaten by the kids and anything left over is used by the school chef to put into salads or, in the case of the zucchini, put into bread for lunchtime. 

The Scarecrow Festival is held the first Thursday every October to benefit the garden and make more people aware of the opportunity to grow their own food and flowers in West Valley. 

“We want to make it a public space, and we want the kids to feel welcome in it so that it continues,” Matthews said.