Vandalism of a children’s garden at Walker Elementary School saddened and angered the school and community members. It also prompted an outpouring of support.
“So sad,” wrote one parent on social media about the incident, which was discovered Sunday. Other comments were angry. “Sorry you were the recipient of such depraved/base actions, so undeserving.”
The greenhouse, situated toward the back of the school, was hit with graffiti with “inappropriate” words and images and gallons of paint that were poured into seedling containers, destroying hundreds of starts.
“It was a gut punch,” said fourth and fifth grade teacher and garden leader Jennifer Parks. "This is something we worked so hard on."
She came to check the garden on Sunday and discovered the vandalism.
“I called facilities and the principal and even though it was a holiday weekend we came together,” said Parks. “The kids didn’t see anything.”
Even today the school doesn’t want anyone to take pictures or show the full scope of damage.
“We don’t want to traumatize the kids," said Parks. "And the point now is not the vandalism. The story is what we do here.”
What they do, says Parks, is grow hundreds of plant starts from seeds. Walker’s program not only provides vegetables for their own school but for other salad bars in the district and the Rogue Valley Farm to School and Rotary clubs community garden, which gives food to the Emergency Food Bank.
“It’s an unfortunate end to our school season but it’s an opportunity to look creatively for improvements,” said Elizabeth Toby from Farm to School.
Within hours of students in the fourth and fifth grades hearing about the vandalism, parents arrived with plant starts from Valley View Nursery, which donated hundreds of plants.
“There’s nothing that’s been done that we can’t undo. All these things are opportunities for kids to succeed in different ways,” said Parks, who is involving students in rebuilding and expanding. She hopes to find a mural artist to lead efforts to paint over the damaged areas. They also need tools to make repairs to the greenhouse.
Parents and community members are continuing to come forward offering assistance.
“My husband and daughter bought a bunch of starts this afternoon and Valley View Nursery donated even more to replace the starts that were destroyed,” said Jesse Moon Longhurst, a Walker parent. "Please thank Valley View if you get the chance."
“We’ll gladly get Walker up and running again,” said Ashland resident Bob Sexton. “Someone goes low? Best revenge is going high!”
Much of what was damaged, outside of the starts themselves, can be easily repaired and remedied.
“The worms are even OK. The kids were really worried but they made it,” said Parks. The outdoor garden in raised beds on campus was not touched and nothing was stolen.
No suspects have been identified and Parks said that’s not her focus.
“I don’t want to vilify the person. Let’s hope they see what they’ve done and they’re sorry about it. What’s important now is what we’re doing for the kids and the amount of food we’re growing.”
Deputy Police Chief Warren Hensman said it’s likely the person or persons are juveniles.
“It looks to me like something kids did. It’s maybe a couple hundred bucks in damages. If it's juveniles they’d be cited and released.” He said the crimes would be misdemeanor trespass and criminal mischief.
If parents or community members want to assist in repairing and improving the greenhouse, contributing tools or providing new starts, Parks said, they can contact Walker Elementary School.
Though Parks acknowledged the vandalism was hurtful she also said there were many silver linings in terms of teaching children about resilience and the opportunity to create something good out of a difficult situation.
“I want to thank the Ashland community for its love and outpouring.”
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.