Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation Supports Local School Gardens

The Environmental Center was awarded a one-year grant in the amount of $5,000 to fund a FoodCorps Service Member and to support the Central Oregon Garden Educators Network.

The Environmental Center is committed to increasing garden-based learning opportunities for schools across Central Oregon. Garden activities and education provide a wide range of positive benefits for kids, communities and the environment. Research indicates that integrating garden-based learning into the school environment generates a variety of positive outcomes for students – including physical, intellectual, psychological and more.

The Environmental Center has operated a learning garden for nine years at their facility on Kansas Ave in Bend. In 2017, we took our experience gardening with youth and expanded it to create a “Garden for Every School” initiative in order to support garden education in schools across the region. The Environmental Center now provides classroom and garden lessons with partner schools through a FoodCorps service member; organizes garden educator network events through its role as the regional school garden education hub; provides garden grants and technical assistance to local schools; and supports the school district in school garden development.

The Garden Educator Network, launched in 2016, provides regular opportunities for garden educators to connect through peer-to-peer learning, problem-solving, and resource sharing. In the coming year, these grant funds will provide the community with at least one training and two networking events, including a garden site tour.

The Environmental Center has hosted a FoodCorps service member annually since 2017. These dedicated individuals work with schools with the greatest need (Title 1 schools) to provide intensive support to sustain garden-based learning. Tracy Ryan, the current service member, provides nutrition and garden education services to Three Rivers Elementary School and Bear Creek Elementary School. In the coming year, these grant funds will support this partnership with FoodCorps, allowing Tracy to reach a minimum of 400 students.

“We are grateful to the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation for the support of our work to expand garden based learning into schools, and to help connect kids to healthy food in school,” said Denise Rowcroft, School Gardens Manager.

Learn more about The Environmental Center’s school garden initiative here.

Grant checks were distributed during a ceremony on January 9, 2019. The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation awarded a total of $496,550 to 73 organizations across Oregon.

Denise Rowcroft Receives Cooperator Award

Last month, Denise Rowcroft, Sustainability Educator at The Environmental Center, received a Cooperator Award from Oregon State University Extension Association. She was nominated by local extension Nutrition Educators Katie Ahern, Ashley Joyce, and Kaitlin Greene for her work in Deschutes County.

As shared during the presentation, “OSUEA has recognized cooperators for more than 30 years. Each year individuals and businesses are recognized for the significant contributions that have made to extension programs. It is through these cooperators that extension is able to accomplish so much.”

Congratulations, Denise!

Above photo: Denise is pictured with A. Scott Reed, Vice Provost and OSU Extension Service Director; and Wendy Hein, President of OSUEA.

A short excerpt from the awards presentation:

Denise Rowcroft is dedicated to connecting children to the basis of all life – food. She led the transformation of a vacant, weed-infested lot next to The Environmental Center into an outdoor classroom where children tend to the seeds they plant, make discoveries through observations and experiments, apply math and science skills, and get their hands dirty.

The OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program partners with Denise at The Environmental Center Learning Garden in sharing the growing cycle of plants to enjoying the garden bounty through nutrition education and recipe assembly. In partnership with Extension, Denise also created the regional School Garden Educators Network complimenting Extension work in healthy eating promotion at schools. Denise is changing the ways elementary schools are thinking about food, food systems, and learning, one school garden at a time.

Garden For Every School Fall 2018 Update

We are excited to be kicking off another school year rolling out our Garden for Every School initiative – our community effort to support school garden development in a way that is unique to each school’s needs, and done so with long-term sustainability in mind. To begin the school year, 14 local garden educators (potentially reaching over 700 students) gathered at The Environmental Center in mid-September for a training with OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program staff on the topic of Building Capacity with a School Garden Committee. With support from the Oregon Farm to School & School Garden Network, we act as the Central Oregon Regional Hub for school garden education, and we organize these events that feature trainings, resource sharing, and school garden tours as one of our strategies to support a garden for every school.

Thanks to strong community support, our summer garden grant campaign successfully raised $10,000 to support school garden projects in Central Oregon. The grants application period is now open, and the application, information, and highlights from last years’ grants are all available here, under the Garden Grants tab. Deadline is November 19th.

We’d like to thank our 2018 Garden For Every School business sponsors who make this initiative possible:

We would also like to officially welcome our new FoodCorps Service Member, Tracy Ryan. FoodCorps mission is to connect kids to healthy food in their schools.

During the 2018-2019 school-year, Tracy will be serving in Bear Creek Elementary School in Bend and Three Rivers School in Sunriver. Tracy will support activities in Bear Creek’s outdoor garden and assist with with indoor gardening and healthy food lessons during their weekly Friday afternoon Garden Club. This club is offered as an elective class to all Bear Creek students. She will also facilitate their staff Garden Committee’s collaboration on how best to serve students through hands-on activities in both the garden (their outside classroom) as well as the indoor classroom.

At Three Rivers School, Tracy will be working with the school’s Wellness Committee and their very creative indoor “mobile garden” that is housed in their Garden Room. Tracy will utilize this room throughout the school year to provide hands-on activities and lessons in gardening and healthy food lessons for K-5 classes.

Tracy will also be serving in the cafeteria of both schools by role modeling healthy food choices as well as encouraging students to try new foods. She looks forward to supporting Bend-La Pine School District’s Wellness Policy goals of healthy eating patterns and increased physical activity, which are essential for students to achieve their full academic potential, full physical and mental growth, and lifelong health and well-being.

Here at our own Kansas Avenue Learning Garden, the 5th graders at Amity Creek Elementary School came full circle by returning to the garden to harvest what they planted last spring as 4th graders. Back at their school, students prepped and ate delicious roasted root veggies, kale chips and tomato bruschetta.

An additional thank you to all the volunteers who helped out in our Kansas Ave. Learning Garden during the Tuesday Happy Hour in the Garden series! Don’t forget we have one more fall work party on October 20th, if you’re available to lend a hand.

Garden Grant Update: Three Rivers Elementary School

Three Rivers Elementary School in Sunriver had a very unique idea for a school garden! Their goal was to create a school garden project that was manageable in size and scope, but still connected students to growing food. With assistance from our FoodCorps Service Member, Claire, the school designed and built three mobile indoor garden carts using donated shopping carts – complete with a ‘parking garage’ lighting system, soil and seeds, and a water catchment system.

Students have been actively involved in planting seeds in the starter trays, transplanting the garden starts to the mobile carts, and watering and monitoring the growth of plants in the mobile carts.

Over the next year, Three Rivers plans to start a new science curriculum called “Amplify,” which will utilize the garden carts in tandem with a unit on life sciences. They also want to encourage more classes to be involved, and rotate the carts among classrooms. We’re extra excited to learn that Three Rivers sees this project as a potential catalyst for launching a bigger, more permanent garden project in the future!

Garden Grant Update: Seed to Table

With their grant from The Environmental Center, Seed to Table Farm in Sisters purchased a small set of grow lights to increase vegetable production for the school during winter months. This allowed the school to increase the amount of produce grown from zero heads of lettuce to 12 heads of lettuce a week! Providing fresh greens in school lunches will help students connect spring and fall farm-based education with their meals.

In addition, Seed to Table began to experiment with three different hydroponic systems for the high school agriculture and biology classes. These new systems will allow science teachers to conduct experiments and classroom instruction in an up-to-date environment.

Seed to Table also planted a native plant garden utilizing funds from The Environmental Center. The native plant garden will be maintained for use in biology, environmental studies, and agriculture classes.

Garden Grant Update: Henry L Slater Elementary School

Henry L Slater Elementary School was one of seven School Garden Grant recipients in 2017. Here is a brief summary of what they did with the grant funds! Right now, The Environmental Center is fundraising to help MORE local teachers create and improve school gardens. Learn more and show your support here.


Henry Slater, located in Burns, was awarded a grant to build their first school garden and develop a summer garden program. They made great progress toward their goal, with new fencing and raised beds now built on-site! In addition to the new garden space, Slater just hired a STEM teacher who will be implementing more garden curriculum in the coming year.

Their summer garden program, “Growing Healthy Kids,” is scheduled to run from June 11 – August 17. And Slater is inspired to achieve even bigger garden plans! They hope to add recycling, composting, and hydroponics education to their future gardening program.

Garden Grant Update: Bend International School

Bend International School was one of seven School Garden Grant recipients in 2017. Here is a brief summary of what they did with the grant funds! Right now, The Environmental Center is fundraising to help MORE local teachers create and improve school gardens. Learn more and show your support here


Bend International School put their grant funds towards a new irrigation system in their school garden. The automatic irrigation was designed to allow the vegetable garden to flourish throughout the summer months and be ready for harvest in the fall when students return. They purchased irrigation supplies like underground piping, hose bibs, drip irrigation, and timers to create three irrigation zones.

This new equipment has enabled  teachers and students to plan the beds according to watering needs of plants. The beds are now getting the appropriate amount of water, and the greenhouse now has automatic irrigation – so overall, teachers will be able to greatly expand the scope of gardening curriculum.

Some quotes we love:

“We are so grateful for the Environmental Center’s support for our Irrigation of our K-8 School Garden.  Our students are actively participating in the planting and cultivating of our food which has taken the learning beyond the classroom and into the real world.  This would not be possible without the water, which gives us all life. Students are experiencing science first hand, and deeper learning is occurring, which benefits all of our students. — “Meera Rupp, Director

“The school garden is developing into a community space for our students to gather and share.  It is beautiful to observe students learning how to carefully transplant, plan out garden beds, explore earthworms and learn to love the taste of Kale right off the plant! We are thankful for the irrigation system to provide water to keep the garden growing so that all can enjoy. Thank you for supporting our school.” — Heather Leeder, Resource Specialist

“If we didn’t have irrigation to water the plants, we would never be able to see a pretty butterfly again.”  — Gabriella, 1st grade.

Garden Grant Update: Sisters Elementary School

Sisters Elementary School was one of seven School Garden Grant recipients in 2017. Here is a brief summary of what they did with the grant funds! Right now, The Environmental Center is fundraising to help MORE local teachers create and improve school gardens. Learn more and show your support here


Sisters Elementary School used their garden grant to purchase supplies for propagating plants in classrooms, including a set of grow lights and potting soil. In addition, they used the grant to supplement funds from the Sisters School Foundation for deer fencing around the new outdoor school garden. They installed a 6′ tall chain link fence to help keep deer away and plants thriving!

A fourth grade class started seeds in the classroom and either took the  plants home, or donated them to the annual SES Garden Fair fundraiser. We were very excited to learn that around 80 students participated in garden activities and lessons last spring through the SES Garden Club! 

Claire Londagin, our FoodCorps Service Member, spent a lot of time at Sisters Elementary School and played a big role in making this project come to life. Claire has been working with The Environmental Center team for over a year. During that time, she has delivered garden-based education, increased connections for teachers from curriculum to school gardens, and provided technical assistance in garden development and improvement.

We’re thankful for Claire’s time and dedication to our local schools and communities. Thanks to her hard work, we are one step closer to our vision of ‘a garden for every school’ in Central Oregon! Please help us wish Claire best of luck in her next chapter in Vermont.

Garden Grant Update: REALMS

REALMS Middle School was one of seven School Garden Grant recipients in 2017. Here is a brief summary of what they did with the grant funds! Right now, The Environmental Center is fundraising to help MORE local teachers create and improve school gardens. Learn more and show your support here


REALMS Middle School accomplished a LOT with their school garden grant! Their goal was to improve garden infrastructure in order to hold a full class of students engaged in garden-rich activities. They built a garden planting table and wash station, and purchased a fleet of new tools and a nuc of honey bees.

Growing food became a cornerstone to the 6th grade “Waste Less, Nourish More” curriculum – but the entire school, and kids of all ages, benefited from garden programs. Students and teachers even produced three short films about their garden experiences to share with the community. Check out these inspiring videos:

REALMS also implemented the “Parker Plant Project,” a plant sale, where students learned to harvest seeds and germinate plant starts to sell to customers. In addition, they grew radishes and donated these to the Back Door Café Program in Bend. Way to go, REALMS!

Garden Grant Update: Bear Creek Elem.

Break Creek Elementary School was one of seven School Garden Grant recipients in 2017. Here is a brief summary of what they did with the grant funds! Right now, The Environmental Center is fundraising to help MORE local teachers create and improve school gardens. Learn more and show your support here


Bear Creek Elementary School’s goal was to restore an under-utilized school garden. They used the grant funds to purchase several necessary supplies – hoses, tomato cages, twine, soil, mulch, and more. By the end of the year, they calculated that 215 kids had interacted with the new and improved school garden. Over 230 plants were also grown indoors, then sent home to families to be transplanted.

Garden-based learning was incorporated into school lessons; plus, approximately 75 students participated in the garden club. Students learned about seeds, soil, plants, nutrients, garden critters, climate, and the importance of eating healthy. And according to Bear Creek educators, their garden goals have been met! The project inspired and built a committee of teachers and community members who are dedicated to growing plants (both indoors and outdoors) at Bear Creek.