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Students from all over Kelso and Longview spent Saturday at the Northlake Elementary School garden, selling the plants they helped grow over the school year and using them to make pizza.

Ava Escudero, a Cascade Middle School eighth-grader, said she was happy to spend her morning volunteering at the garden.

“It’s really fun and not really work,” Escudero said. “There’s a really good energy. It’s fun to eat pizza and sell plants.”

Escudero was one of about 30 students who volunteered at the event put on by Lower Columbia School Gardens. The annual event is a fundraiser for the organization, which runs 19 school gardens in Longview and Kelso.

Ian Thompson, Lower Columbia School Gardens director, said the organization has held the sale for more than 10 years. As the number of school gardens in the area and student participation have grown, so has the event, he said.

“It’s really more than a fundraiser,” Thompson said.

“It’s a celebration and a chance to have people that come to buy plants, but then just spend time listening to the music, having pizza and touring the orchard.”

People filtering into the one-acre garden at Olympia Way were greeted by upbeat music played by Mexican Norteño band Los Alegres del Sur of Vancouver.

Students and volunteers made pizzas near the garden entrance, handing out slices in exchange for donations. The students rotated between different stations, rolling out dough, spreading sauce and adding toppings, and cutting up the pizzas when they came out of the ovens.

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Rosey, a Monticello Middle School seventh-grader, stretched lumps of dough prepared Friday with a handful of other students. She said she likes being in her school’s garden club because she likes being outside.

“It gives you more opportunities. It’s really fun,” she said.

But Garrett, a fourth-grader at Kessler Elementary, said he likes to taste the plants they grow, hang out with friends and learn about plants.

Students in the garden program make pizza for a variety of events, said Emily Anderson, Americorp volunteer with the program. Pizza is a good pick because it is many kids’ favorite meal and can easily use ingredients from the garden, she said.

“It’s important for them to see ‘I plant this food in the ground, what do I do with it,’ “ Anderson said.

After grabbing a slice of pizza, many shoppers wandered through tables and rows of plants for sale, picking up anything from tomatoes to lavender.

Thompson said heirloom tomatoes go fast because some of the varieties sold at the event can’t be found in most grocery stores. Besides supporting the organization, the event also raises community awareness of the school garden programs, he said.

“It’s one of the bright spots in our area and it’s something that’s positive to gather around,” he said. “It’s a celebration of food. ... So many of us don’t have a connection with where food comes from, and I think it’s important for that.”

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