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Eagle River kids enjoy bounty of school garden

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EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — Eagle River Elementary Optional Education students aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

The roughly 100 students in the program — along with parent volunteers — harvested peas, carrots, beats, cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts from one of four gardens Sept. 17 to use for a potluck dinner the following night.

The student-grown garden is a way to educate children about eating healthy and teach them how to grow their own food, said parent Felicia Hanna, who coordinated this year's project with Nicole Mercer.

"We tried to show them that vegetables can be fun," Hanna said. "We're teaching them a life lesson."

Each of the four classes planted a garden after the snow melted last school year. While the ground was still frozen, students planted seeds in the classroom, Hanna said.

Before school let out, students transferred their seeds to the outdoor garden. Parent volunteers watered the garden throughout the summer.

Once the garden was picked clean, students washed their vegetables to prepare for the next phase — cooking. Each class made a soup and parents prepared salads for the potluck.

The garden is one place where peer pressure is a good thing, Hanna said. The kids see others sampling vegetables, and it encourages them to try new foods, she said.

"It's a new experience," Hanna said.

"They're excited about eating vegetables," Mercer added.

The most reluctant students at quickly learned just how tasty fresh-grown vegetables can be, Hanna said.

"The ones that are like, 'Ew, yuck' are the ones that can't get enough," she said.

It's vital to educate youths about the value of eating unprocessed foods, Hanna said.

"If it comes from a box, it's probably not good for you," she said. "I wish we could do it for the whole school."

This year, the garden had some help from the State of Alaska when the Division of Agriculture awarded the school a $1,500 grant.

"That was huge," Mercer said. "That really helped us take it to the next level."

Mercer said she'd like to see the student garden grow. In the future, she wants to be able to sell some of the harvest at a vegetable stand in the summer.

"We hope this is just the beginning," she said.