"Shark Garden" Turns 6 Years Old
On Earth Day 2021, did you know there is a 1.6-acre thriving, organic “Shark Garden” changing lives at New Start High School in Burien?
This non-profit school and community garden offers a project-based curriculum for students attending New Start High School (mascot: Sharks), impactful summer internships in cooperation with King County Employment and Education Resources (DCHS), a free food handling permit program for up to 40 Highline students and 75 community pea patch gardens.
The garden donated a record 2,747 pounds of produce in 2020 to the White Center Food Bank!
How the Garden Began
The New Start Community Garden is the brainchild of several people now on the non-profit board, including New Start High School Principal Michael Sita and founding board members John Feeney and Taryn Koerker.
Started in 2015 as a small high school garden in a largely unused playfield next to the former Salmon Creek Elementary School building, which is now New Start High School, the garden has grown to serve many needs within the school and community.
Summer Internships Prove Successful
During the summer internship program, New Start students can get math or science credit in the morning, then work in the garden in the afternoon.
“That’s been hugely successful because student entry level attendance rate when they show up here has been about 31%, but during the summer program, attendance goes up to 92%!” said Taryn.
“We are seeing students come back a couple years later to show their parents, “I planted that tree.”
"We Need a Garden!"
John says he talked to Principal Mike Sita about the field in 2015: “I could see the wheels turning in his head and he was like, yes, a garden, that’s what we need--a garden!”
“School can be like a concrete wall for some kids, but here they can come out in the garden and be given a project to make their own and be their responsibility. Maybe it is not perfect, but nature is forgiving and they start growing things and it helps bring them a perspective on life by planting a seed, watching it grow. They harvest and share with their friends, and it elevates them and gives them a lot of self confidence. So that’s what motivates me,” said John.
‘If it is one student each year who graduates to feel they can do a lot of things, to feel “I’m a good person. I’m productive and I want to contribute to humanity, then that’s worth it!”’
Funding Learning for Students & Community
The New Start Community Garden added a new herb garden with a photogenic “Shark gate” with King Conservation District funding, which also paid for curriculum development for students. That curriculum covers organic gardening, cooking, food security, food justice and safe food handling.
Thanks to a partnership with the White Center Food Bank, a food pantry students can access is now located at the high school.
In addition to serving New Start students, the garden now boasts 14 speciality demonstration gardens with signage, including:
- Edible Flowers Garden
- Hummingbird Garden
- Latin American Garden
- Pom Pom Garden
- Sensory Garden
- Pollinator Garden with several hundred types of pollinator plants
- Thorny Thicket with 85 types of berries
- Fig Forest
- Herb Garden
- Native Plant Garden
- Rain Garden
- Pumpkin Patch
- Cut Flowers Garden (for New Start graduation bouquets!)
- Orchard with 50+ types of fruit trees
“We’ve seen 27 different native pollinator insects that were not here before. We are starting to see an ecosystem evolve in this organic environment,” Taryn said.
About 75% of the pea patch garden renters are people of color, including a large group of gardeners who immigrated from Nepal, plus gardeners who immigrated from Latin American countries.
“Nepali Americans often grow multiple crops together in the same area, and they garden all year around, so they harvest hearty green mustard leaves year round, then they interplant with potatoes, beans and radishes,” said Taryn. “It’s been amazing to learn from all the different cultures represented here in the pea patch gardens.”
Needed: A Garden of Volunteers!
The volunteers are getting used working within COVID guidelines. “We can always use more volunteers. They can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to rent a plot or volunteer. We have a few plots left to rent and the cost is $25/year plus 10 hours of volunteer time,” she said.
Typical volunteer hours are Mondays and Wednesday mornings, from 10-11:45 a.m. That is when the group harvest food for the White Center Food Bank and helps manage the school garden. They are hoping to get more Saturday mornings set up.
The non-profit partnership is shifting from building out the garden, relying on numerous grants and sponsors including the Port of Seattle and the King Conservation District, to providing more programming and inviting the community in to enjoy it at 614 SW 120th Street in Burien. The garden website is sharkgarden.org.