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Teen center garden

A group of teenagers checks out the tomato plants at the Longview teen center's new garden at Lake Sacajawea.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional information received after press time.

Mark Morris High School student Kaylee Hartley loves gardening with her Grandma Debbie, who lives in Oregon, but Kaylee’s Longview apartment doesn’t have a place for her to grow her own plants.

A new garden, and plans for a new kitchen, at the Elks Memorial Building at Lake Sacajawea is intended to give teenagers like Kaylee a place where they can learn how to grow and prepare their own food.

“I like how most gardens are quiet places and you can see a lot of wildlife,” Kaylee, 15, said Tuesday. “I think it’s a great idea to have it so close to an area where teens hang out, because it might teach kids to enjoy nature.”

Ashley Davis said she has wanted a garden for the Boulevard Teen Program, which meets in the Elks Memorial Building, ever since she started working there five years ago as an employee of the Longview Parks and Recreation Department. (The teen program operates there from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday as a place for teenagers to go after school.)

“I’m very excited about the garden,” Davis said Tuesday. “Preparing food brings people together and teaches life skills, which is something we could all use.”

The idea for the garden arose in January when city employees “stumbled” across a grant program, Recreation Manager Justin Brown said Wednesday.

With help from the national funding organization, seedmoney.org, the Longview Parks and Recreation Foundation raised $1,200 locally and received another $400 from the funding organization.

Ian Thompson, with Lower Columbia School Gardens, helped the teens design the garden with scale models of the area, Brown said.

“(The teens) were instrumental in everything from start to finish of the design of that garden,” he said.

In May, teens and volunteers from the Parks and Recreation Department and Foundation and Interfor Corp. lumber company (which owns the sawmill on Third Avenue in Longview) built 14 raised garden beds. Interfor also donated about $500 to cover most of the wood supplies.

The Washington State University Master Gardeners donated flowers, Lower Columbia Gardens donated vegetables and Watershed Garden Works donated column apple trees.

“Everybody seems to really see the value in providing this opportunity for life skills for a population that is probably underserved in our community,” Brown said.

Produce grown in the garden will eventually be used for free cooking classes for teens, which have been popular, Davis said.

“(In the cooking classes), we wanted to take into account what they have at home, and meals that are nutritious and affordable,” Davis said. “We started with something simple like frying an egg and then built up to stir fry with vegetables and chicken.”

While the cooking classes were well attended, the kitchen is bare bones, Davis said. There’s only a sink, refrigerator and limited counter-top space. The kids had to use hot plates, electric skillets and a griddle to prepare things like pastas and salads.

The city received $5,000 from the local Healthcare Foundation and learned on Wednesday that they received another $10,000 grant to upgrade the kitchen with ovens, stovetops, cabinets and an island where teens can prepare the food.

Once upgraded, the kitchen could also host community classes and nonprofit events like spaghetti feeds for the less fortunate, Brown said.

Jazmine Sickels, 13, said she enjoyed previous cooking classes at the teen center and would like to take more classes that used the produce grown in the garden.

She helps her dad grow blueberries, strawberries and lemon cucumbers in his garden at home, she said.

“Growing your own food is easier (than buying it in a store) and wasting money on processed food,” Jazmine said.

Although Kaylee has been attending teen center activities for two years, she said she didn’t know about the cooking classes but would like to take one.

“Cooking is soothing. I’m very scientific. With cooking, it’s like doing an experiment. You can’t use too much or too little,” she said. “If I get to cook anything with friends or family, it’s a great thing. It doesn’t matter what we’re cooking.”

Brown said many of the teens have only ever obtained food from the grocery store, so the garden and kitchen teaches them where their food comes.

“(By exposing the teens) to the different ways they can use the food they grew themselves, we’re hoping we’ll see a huge boost in confidence and give them a skill they can use for the rest of their life.”

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