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MailTribune.com
  • It's a place for kids to play and grow

    'Edible playground' coming to VIBES Public Charter School
  • During recess Monday morning, a group of first- and second-graders at VIBES Public Charter School occupied themselves with a deck of cards, some Hula Hoops and a soccer ball in a fenced-in area on the south side of the school.
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  • During recess Monday morning, a group of first- and second-graders at VIBES Public Charter School occupied themselves with a deck of cards, some Hula Hoops and a soccer ball in a fenced-in area on the south side of the school.
    The 13,000-square-foot play area is half gravel and half asphalt, with weeds growing around the perimeter. Although the kids seemed content with the activities at hand, plans are under way for a new "edible schoolyard," complete with a 56-by-45-foot play structure, raised beds and lush garden areas.
    VIBES' host, Kids Unlimited, handled the fundraising for the edible schoolyard and will oversee its construction, which is set to begin later this month and be completed by mid-July, said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited.
    "We are teaching food and nutrition, but now students can also get that hands-on experience — almost like a learning lab — outside on the playground," he said.
    VIBES students will have the opportunity to tend the gardens, harvest the produce and prepare nutritious food in class, Cole said.
    Mary Foster, a professional garden designer, retired teacher and Master Gardener, pitched the idea to Cole after visiting the original Edible Schoolyard Project, founded by Alice Waters at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif.
    Foster designed the Blue Heron Park Community Garden in Phoenix and the Fifth and Ivy Community Garden in Medford, and she helped to revive the Bellview Elementary School garden in Ashland.
    "Studies have shown that you see an increase in positive behavior when kids are outside doing work or an activity," she said.
    Foster said she envisions the play structure in the center of the space surrounded by a jungle-like edible garden with a little rill, a "hobbit house," bean teepees, an outdoor pizza oven, dwarf varieties of fruit and nut trees, some raised beds and picnic tables where kids can feast on the fruits of their labor.
    "An edible space can be so beautiful," she said, naming off several pretty plant varieties, such as rainbow swiss chard, okra and currants.
    "Maybe the kids will learn how to can," she added. "Certainly, they can learn to dry things. Every kid loves fruit leather."
    Foster will work with Sheylan Yearsley to design and plant the gardens this summer. Foster hopes some students will be involved in the process.
    The cost to resurface the 13,000-square-foot area adjacent to the parking lot, purchase the play structure and landscape the area is about $114,000. Kids Unlimited has so far raised about 80 percent of that, Cole said.
    On Monday, Dutch Bros. owner Ty Sullivan dropped off a check for $7,500 for the project. The Kimmel Family Foundation, the Lausmann Family Foundation and the West Family Foundation also made donations to the project.
    Kids Unlimited acquired the property on Austin Street in the spring of 2012, demolished an existing duplex in October 2013 and then leveled and covered the area with gravel before installing a chain-link fence, Cole said.
    Kids Unlimited has since purchased an adjoining 10,000-square-foot piece of property at 531 Austin St. and plans to transform that into an early-childhood playground.
    "Our hope is to pursue the demolition of that this summer and have it ready for our programs in the fall," Cole said.
    Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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