Quilcene volunteer helps students, community bloom

QUILCENE — They stand like sentinels along the main street, tall, barrel-shaped containers made of wood held together with wire cable.

Filled with dirt, they serve as planters for bulbs and annuals that Kit Kittredge and the elementary students at Quilcene School across the street plant every spring.

But before they held plants, the wooden sections carried water from Quilcene to Port Townsend.

“They are part of the old waterline,” Kittredge said, referring to the wooden pipeline that was built in the 1920s to supply water to the mill and the townspeople.

Since moving to Quilcene 20 years ago, Kittredge also has been a community resource, teaching local children gymnastics, putting on annual theater productions and coaching baseball, soccer and basketball.

Teaching gardening

But mostly, she has taught children how to grow.

“I started working with kids in elementary school, planting bulbs in gallon pots,” she said.

Kittredge is the force behind Quilcene School having its own greenhouse, which led to a horticulture club and a school garden program.

She also has the students help her plant the planters every spring and puts up flower baskets from her own greenhouse along the school fence during the summer.

“The beauty of working with plants is that it reminds you of what everyone needs,” Kittredge said. “It all comes together in the garden.

“The kids get it.”

Her own three children are now in their 20s, but she continues to volunteer at the school.

Ozette log cabin

They were born when the family lived in a log cabin in Ozette, she said, where she made and sold moss baskets in the 1980s.

When the family moved to Quilcene 20 years ago, she continued in the landscaping business.

“I did design, installation and maintenance,” she said.

About 10 years ago, she started the elementary students planting bulbs in containers and progressed to planting herbs and annuals from seeds, which she calls “window-sill farming.”

Five years ago, she applied for and received a state Department of Ecology grant for $1,500 to start a fund to build a school greenhouse.

“That got me on my way,” she said. “Then I solicited donations.”

Other volunteers

When the donation sources ran dry, she went to Eileen Worthington, a local school supporter, who helped her reach her goal, and also started an ongoing aluminum recycling effort.

Then she worked with Steubers, a farm supply company in Snohomish, which customized a plan for the school greenhouse and was on call to answer any questions on how to put the components together.

Kittredge was project manager, while her former husband, Philip Siemion, was a mainstay of the construction crew, donating many hours along with a large number of other volunteers.

Penny Creek Quarry donated rock, Kittredge said, while Elk Meadows Nursery in Brinnon donated landscaping material and Dan Neiman Construction helped frame the structure.

“High school students dug the holes for the poles by hand,” Kittredge said. “They helped spread the gravel and helped off and on.”

Using the greenhouse as a base, the school started a horticulture club three years ago.

Borrowing an idea from Sequim and Chimacum schools, Kittredge instituted an annual plant and flower basket sale before Mother’s Day to pay for expenses.

Both the club and the greenhouse are the reason that Quilcene School was chosen to be part of a pilot school garden program by the Jefferson County Public Works Department’s solid waste division last year, according to county school garden coordinator Candice Cosler.

Siemion also built the raised beds for the school garden, Cosler said, and their son, Huck, built raised beds for the greenhouse and is working on greenhouse benches.

Now the school is in a transition stage, Kittredge said, retaining the past while trying to find a way to continue the school garden program, which was funded by a grant.

“What I would love to see is a viable horticulture program,” Kittredge said

“It’s life skills. It’s career skills. Students learn about food production and are involved in all stages.

“It’s healthy, educational and holistic.”

Horticulture teaches math skills and social skills, she said, and provides a connection to the earth and basic human needs — food, water and sunshine.

Water source

A year-round source of water is what Port Townsend lacked, which is why the city tapped into Quilcene’s watershed almost a century ago.

When the wooden waterline were replaced, some of the pieces ended up in John Monroe’s farm.

“He called and said, ‘We’ve got some of these in my field,'” Kittredge said. “We cut them into 6-foot lengths and moved them into town.”

For a base, Kittredge salvaged large brick pavers from a community cleanup of two structures in town that burned down, recycling them, like a good gardener, back into the local landscape.

________

Port Townsend/Jefferson County Reporter-Columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at 360-379-5688 or jjackson@olypen.com.

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