Vegetables — and self-esteem — growing in youth garden

Robert Girvin is a gardener. On Friday, the 16-year-old was planting blue corn. He was checking on tomato starts he had nurtured in a greenhouse.

The lanky teen has been ripping out brush and weeding vegetable beds.

“It’s really nice work. It teaches us to be out there, to be hands-on with something,” said Girvin, who lives in Everett.

The gardens and greenhouse where Girvin and other kids are learning to grow food are next to Denney Juvenile Justice Center. Garden PATH — the acronym stands for Positive Alternatives Through Horticulture — is outside a north Everett building Snohomish County uses for its juvenile Detention Alternatives Program.

There were lots of green thumbs at the place Friday when Snohomish County Master Gardeners visited. The Master Gardeners, trained through a Washington State University-Snohomish County Extension program, have a keen and vested interest in the juvenile facility’s garden.

Earlier this year, the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation awarded a $1,500 grant to the Denney youth garden and greenhouse. It’s the largest grant the foundation has given since 2009, when it started providing funds to help community gardens, said Sandy DeLisle, who heads the foundation’s grants committee. The nonprofit foundation supports the WSU Master Gardener program.

The young gardeners are learning about plants and hard work. They are also giving back.

Tomato starts and other seedlings grown by Girvin and other kids will be available at the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation’s plant sale. The annual event will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at McCollum Park in south Everett.

Master Gardener Michele Duncan said the sale will cover three parking lots. There will be thousands of tomato plants, vegetable starts, perennials, herbs, trees, shrubs and gifts available, she said. Proceeds will support Master Gardener programs, including annual grants.

Jim O’Day is a community corrections officer who works with kids in detention alternatives programs. He has accompanied young gardeners taking produce they harvested to the nearby Volunteers of America Food Bank. “I have had kids say, ‘Wow, I was here last week getting food with my mom,’” O’Day said.

The county has several alternatives to secure detention for young offenders or kids who have not complied with court-ordered expectations. They include PASS (Program Alternative to Secure Sentencing), JETS (Juvenile Educational Transitional Services), SWAP (Special Weekend Alternative Program) and DCAP (Drug Court Alternative Program).

The kids work in classrooms, but also on other projects. Over the past few years, the gardens and greenhouse have undergone a labor-intensive makeover.

Hap Wertheimer, retired from a career in landscape design, is a Master Gardener who has volunteered at the Denney garden since 2011. What was once a marshy area with an old boat used for planting has been transformed. Kids and volunteers built raised beds, and placed rocks for a “creek” that helps with runoff.

The greenhouse, which was overgrown and in disrepair, is behind the detention alternatives facility near a Compass Health facility. It hadn’t been used in years before the young people were put to work.

Along with the grant, the garden has had donations from Cedar Grove, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Asplundh. Approval and support have come from the county’s facilities department and the administration at Denney.

“It is such a hands-on horticultural, therapeutic program,” said Wertheimer, who started a Facebook page to chronicle the garden.

Pat Nostrand has volunteered in the garden since retiring as a teacher at Denney. “In the fall we had a bumper crop of tomatoes. The kids made green tomato salsa,” she said. Henri Wilson, who has taught art classes at Denney for years, turned the garden into lessons. Student artists helped create the Garden PATH sign and a decorated barrier.

Girvin, who has been in the JETS program, was pleased the gardeners visited. “They appreciate the work we’re doing,” he said Friday.

He has spent a weekend working at the greenhouse, and cleared beds that were overrun. Months ago, he worked on the creek and other parts of the garden.

“It makes you feel good about yourself,” Girvin said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Master Gardener plant sale Saturday

The Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation’s annual plant sale will be held 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at McCollum Park, 600 128th St. SE, Everett. The foundation supports the WSU Master Gardener program in Snohomish County. Information: www.snomgf.org and http://ext100.wsu.edu/snohomish/

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