Jenni Donley, who is spearheading a Community Garden in the garden at Creslane Elementary School, checks out some developing blueberries that will be ready for harvest this summer. GINI DAVIS/ THE CRESWELL CHRONICLE
The garden in front of Creslane Elementary School is an expansive space full of promise. But it had been neglected for several years before new life was breathed into it during the 2017-18 school year by Creswell newcomers Leanne and Patrick Salandro.
But as the Salandros move on – literally – to the Oregon coast this summer, Jenni Donley, an energetic, enthusiastic local woman with 20 years of gardening experience, is taking over as Garden Lead at Creslane and adding a Community Garden component that will see its first harvest of vegetables and berries this summer.
”I’m very excited to be a part of the Creslane Garden,” Donley said. ”Providing food for the community and for the children at the school really makes my heart sing.”
The fruits – and vegetables – of the Salandros’ and Donley’s labor are already apparent. Before school let out, ”The teachers and children were enjoying the strawberries that are ripening daily,” Donley said.
While hopes of inviting community members to U-pick produce were nixed by the school district for liability reasons, the summer harvest will be a boon to Creswell Food Pantry and other community food resources.
”We donated a grocery bag full of lettuce to the Food Pantry, and our lettuce patch is still going strong, so I anticipate future donations as well,” Donley said. ”We also have small patch of potatoes, garlic and onions, and we’ve donated potato, garlic and raspberry starts to Michelle Bonneau, who is very active in the Creswell Garden and Homestead Group on Facebook. She is working in the Community Garden at the Church of the Nazarene and has indicated that she will also be growing food for the Creswell Food Pantry.”
The revitalized garden is also replete with lettuce, four varieties of small tomatoes and Early Girl slicing tomatoes, two varieties of cucumbers, beans, peppers, squash, potatoes and more – including the ”cucumelon,” a ”fun hybrid of cucumber and melon,” Donley said.
”We also expect six varieties of blueberries, as well as multiple varieties of golden raspberries,” she added.
Donley will continue tending the garden over the summer, watering, weeding and beating back the encroaching grass. Local Boy Scouts will double the height of existing planter beds to provide deeper soil for plants, using materials purchased with funds from a Creswell First! grant the Creslane Garden was awarded in February.
Donley will also harvest the wealth of produce as it ripens and plant some late vegetables, including peas. And while most produce matures when students are away for the summer, Donley is actively thinking and planning for what they will see and experience there this fall.
”I believe children are much more likely to eat something they’ve grown themselves,” Donley said. ”My vision for the Creslane Garden is that the children will be interested in it and learn from it – that they will learn to plant and care for the produce they are eating at school (as part of their lunches or snacks).”
To facilitate student interest and participation, Donley is growing some foods that will mature after school is back in session: ”We hope to have a small pumpkin patch and we currently have two varieties of squash planted, to harvest in the early fall,” Donley said.
Donley also hopes to expand the summer Community Garden endeavor – and use it to inspire others to grow extra, and to give what they grow.
”Right now, we have only used about half the space in the garden, and I hope we can add more beds in the future,” she said. ”I hope the community will be excited about this garden, and I hope my excitement to give to Creswell Food Pantry is contagious.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Creslane school or community garden may contact Donley at [email protected]