A Day at La Casita Garden Club

by guest blogger Doug Odell, President of the Church Council at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Salem, Oregon

It’s hard to believe that the La Casita Garden Club just finished its ninth year educating the kids of our neighborhood. I remember when Holy Cross collaborated with many people across our community to transform a broken down playground and a neglected building into a gathering space and a learning center for our neighbors.  Salem Leadership Foundation, Mano a Mano, Catholic Community Services, East Salem Rotary Club, McKay High School students, and many others helped us breathe life into the space once the graveyard for forgotten dreams.

I recall the first days of the Garden Club, when my daughters (Victoria and Christina) and I helped neighborhood children learn how to grow herbs and vegetables, and how to cook with them in fun and nutritious ways.

Carrie Mahue, who recently retired from Salem Leadership Foundation, still has a heart for the program after all these years. She had arranged for the La Casita Coffee Hour ladies and Kathy Martel to serve lunches during the week, and she asked me to do the same for one day during the week the Garden Club was in action. I agreed, and Victoria offered to help.

When we arrived at Holy Cross’ back patio, the club was already in full swing. The garden looked great, and, with their morning activities done, the kids were ready for lunch. We served twenty-five kids and their instructors Tabouleh (a Middle Eastern salad) stuffed in pita pockets, watermelon, and homemade peach sorbet.  It was fun asking the kids to identify all the garden ingredients that went into their lunch.

As they finished eating, volunteers from Salem Environmental Education moved on to teach the afternoon’s topic: worms!  The kids learned just how important worms are for the soil, and even got to hold them.  I declined the opportunity, but the kids delighted in letting them wriggle through their fingers before the worms retired back into the soil. I found out that other activities during the week included working the garden, painting the garden wall, and lessons on bees, butterflies, recycling, herbs, veggies, and seed germination.

This year’s season is over, but the Garden Club, like seeds planted in the raised beds of our back patio, will rise again next summer. Perhaps you, too, will be lucky enough to serve a lunch and see all the children delight in learning the rhythm of life found in plants, sun, water—and even worms.