Well-intentioned school gardens have the makings of a mess once student gardeners disappear for the summer.




Robin Hawley, a teacher at Willow Wind Community Learning Center, found a solution to the dearth of summertime help in her school's garden by creating a "Reading and Weeding" camp that gets students pulling weeds and reading about the science of gardening.




"The goal of the reading and weeding program is to keep the jungle at bay, basically, but the kids love to see their friends, and they love to read," Hawley said.




She bought age-appropriate gardening books for the camp with a grant from the Ashland Food Cooperative, and the money will also fund a fall produce stand where students can sell their harvest to friends and family.




Twice a week, the campers tend the gardens planted by their classmates, families and teachers in the spring. After an hour or so of weeding under the hot sun, they are ready for a reading and snack break.




The summer program allows kids to watch the gardening process from start to finish that most school-year gardeners miss over the summer.




"They don't see any of the in-between steps &

they plant the seeds and they harvest the corn, but they don't necessarily know what happens in between," Hawley said.




The school's garden is in its eighth year, but this past year, it doubled in size and now includes everything from beans and corn to kiwis and jujubes.




Parents say the small time commitment, fresh veggies and multi-grade reading make the program ideal for their children.




"They love coming home with all kinds of good things to eat," said Danielle Amarotico, who has two children in the program.




This week, the family enjoyed a vegetable frittata and baked French fries for dinner with the bounty from Tuesday's session, she said.




"How can you go wrong with reading and weeding?" she asked. "I have one that likes to read a little more and one that likes to weed a little more, so it's perfect for both of them."




Jayden Grunde, 5, was part of a class that planted the gardens in the spring, and now he gets excited to see the fruits of his labor, said his mother, Sheryl Grunde. Reading with older children also gave him an extra boost with his own skills, she said.




"It's inspired him to want to read with me, and he read me a whole book the other day," she said.




Camp is held Tuesday and Thursday mornings throughout July. To register for the program, call Robin Hawley at 535-8812.




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