Ucluelet’s School Garden remained locked on August 3, despite pleas from community members who say the facility is in desperate need of care. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Frustration grows in Ucluelet as locked gate puts school garden in peril

‘You walk by there and it’s just dead. Everything’s dry and yelling for water’

West Coast green thumbs are fuming over a locked gate that’s preventing the Ucluelet School Garden from blooming as the popular community asset is becoming a devastating graveyard of dried up plants.

“You walk by there and it’s just dead. Everything’s dry and yelling for water,” local gardener Liisa Nielsen told the Westerly News. “My heart breaks.”

The garden has been managed and maintained by local teacher Carey McPherson since 2015, but McPherson told the Westerly that the lock at the gate was changed around the same time that schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic in March and she was not given a key.

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She said School District 70 allowed her back into the garden around the beginning of June, but she needed to ask for the gate to be unlocked each time she wanted to enter the facility and the people she had been borrowing the key from have not been around over the summer.

“It’s been about two months now…There’s a lot of things that have died already, unfortunately, that I planted in June. I was not aware that it would be locked over the summer,” she said.

“I really want to get in there and make it nice again and take care of it before the kids start coming back in the fall, whatever that looks like. It’s a beautiful, big, outdoor classroom, but it does need care.”

A petition with over 700 signatures was recently sent to School District 70 demanding that the garden “be open now and in the future for teachers, caretakers and community volunteers who have invested over $24,000 in local fundraising, grants and donations,” so that it can be maintained and cared for.

“The school garden is a valued educational resource, where students have learned to grow food, work together with nature and have pride of ownership,” the petition reads, in part.

The petition was launched by Mieke Dusseldorp, a self-described “West Coast plant nerd,” who told the Westerly that she wanted to illustrate how appreciated the garden is on the West Coast to school district officials in Port Alberni.

“They’re in another town, so maybe they’re not realizing that it’s actually a jailed up garden that’s just going to weeds right now,” she said. “I thought maybe they weren’t recognizing that it’s a really important place…The community has fundraised, the kids have fundraised, people have donated their time and their energy and their plants and their money and it’s just locked up and going to die.”

She said she was not surprised to see the petition garner so much interest and support and added that she sent it to the school district on July 16 and again on July 24, but was “frustrated” to have received no response.

McPherson said the school’s garden program was created thanks, in part, to funding raised by the students themselves who managed to fundraise just under $7,000 for the facility’s growth by going door to door selling seeds and bulbs.

“One of the benefits is the kids see where their food comes, they take a pride of ownership, they learn in an alternative environment and they get physical education at the same time,” she said adding that along with being enjoyed by the young gardeners, the food grown at the garden has been donated to the Food Bank on the Edge Society and Community Lunch program.

She added teachers have used the garden as a tool and outdoor classroom and a garden club quickly rose in popularity.

“I think it’s really been fantastic and valuable for a lot of our students…It’s a really good sign when the kids come on their own choice, not just for classes,” she said, adding that she hopes to have the garden ready to serve as an “anchor” for students returning from a confusing and socially-distanced summer. “I think it gives the students a sense of power and a sense of hope and a sense of control, which are all especially important right now…I’d love to go in there and clean it all up and have it ready again for the kids.”

The VI Free Daily reached out to SD70 for comment, but did not hear back by presstime.

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READ MORE: COLUMN: Gardening is balm for your soul

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