by Joanna Metheny
Begun in the fall of last year by two local homeschooling moms, Liz Schuiling and Sarah Darpinian, the Ripon Kids’ Garden Club officially changed their name last week to the Oak Valley Youth Garden. Since its onset last August, the Oak Valley Youth Garden has been holding twice monthly meetings on Thursday mornings, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and will continue to adhere to this schedule through the end of the school year. Meetings are open to the public, and each week draw both Ripon residents, as well as families from surrounding communities like Manteca, Salida, and Modesto.
The Oak Valley Youth Garden was the brainchild of Schuiling, who, inspired after visiting a similar children’s garden in Washington, wanted to start a local program to educate kids about gardening, provide an avenue for children to participate community service, and generally encourage families to spend time together in nature enjoying the outdoors. After enlisting the help of friend Darpinian, and with strong support from Ripon Community Garden Board President Sharon Butler, as well as numerous generous community donors, the club began meeting in August of 2016. Each week draws between 35 – 65 visitors.
In addition to plenty of garden tasks like planting, weeding, and harvesting, each club session includes a fun nature-themed craft, story for the littles, and lesson for the older children. Prior crafts have included everything from seasonal garlands and nature journals to leaf lanterns and vegetable stamping. Most activities are primarily geared towards kids under ten, but all are welcome to participate as long as accompanied by a parent. Activities are very casual, and provide a lot of flexibility for active families, or those with young children.
Each week, the entirety of the produce harvested from the Oak Valley Youth garden boxes is washed and then donated to the Modesto Gospel Mission, or to the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. During the winter months, the Youth Garden has been donating roughly 5 to 10 pounds worth of produce which has primarily consisted of greens like lettuce, kale, and chard, as well as root crops like beets and carrots.
The Youth Garden’s produce donations bring things full circle, as the garden is almost entirely run on the generosity of the local community. Donations of plants, seeds, tools, funding and more have come in from numerous local businesses and individual donors such as Schempers ACE Hardware, Strand ACE Hardware, Savemert, O’Brien’s Market, The Brighter Side, Lisa and Vincent Alvarado, Jessica and Joel Balam, Sharon and Mike Butler, Mary Leonard, Karie Maddex, and Elsbeth Morita, Sonja Knutsen Interior Design, New Mettle Farms, and the garden sign was donated by Jessica Hart. This past winter, the Youth Garden was also the recipient of several box years’ sponsorships by Shannon Butler, Kathy Anderson, and an anonymous donor.
For those looking to join in the fun, the next meeting will be held on April 6th, and the theme will be Birds and Nest Making. The club is also always interested in speaking with anyone interested in volunteering, and tasks can include leading a craft or lesson, harvesting produce, setting up and more. Keep an eye out for even more fun this summer when meetings shift to every week.
For further information or to find out about upcoming events, see the Oak Valley Youth Garden’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/oakvalleyyouthgarden/ , or email them at email@example.com.
About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.