HANFORD — Little first-grade bunnies from Washington Elementary School hopped their way through Peter Rabbit’s home and into Mr. McGregor’s Garden, where they were able to learn about and even taste Swiss chard.
It’s not exactly how the story played out in Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” but it’s close enough.
The Hanford students were on a field trip to the Children’s Storybook Garden and Museum, whose board of directors recently paid off the entire property mortgage, thanks to a generous donor.
“We’re elated,” said Judy Wait, founding member and board president. “We’re all so excited.”
Just six months ago the Garden looked extremely different; there were a few structures up, but it was mostly just leveled dirt. Now, flowers and plants are all over the place and there’s something for children to do around every corner.
The activities include a reading room; a “pizza garden” where kids can grow food that goes on a pizza; an excavation site; an “ABC animal garden”; and multiple other gardens and fun activities.
Dave Jones, who is the marketing director for the Garden and one of its founding members, said along with literacy, one of the main goals is to teach children about how vegetables are grown and how to make nutritious and healthy eating choices.
The vision of the garden started six years ago, when Wait told Jones that she wanted to purchase the property that was behind the library on the corner of 10th and Harris streets. She wanted to create a literature-themed garden for all children to read, play and learn.
Bill Clark, who owned the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture outside of Hanford, also owned the property behind the library and sold the land to the Garden, Jones said. In 2013, Clark also donated the Victorian farm house that now sits in the middle of the Garden.
The farm house was relocated to the Garden site and restored, and now is the site of the reading room and demonstration kitchen, and will also feature other educational programs in the future. Since its soft opening, Wait said around 1,500 students have already visited the site.
“This is what a community can do,” Wait said. “It’s a community project, it truly is.”
And when Wait says it took the community, she means it. There’s a banner on the side of the welcome sign with over 70 names of individuals, businesses and organizations that donated or helped in some way to make the Garden possible.
Bricks and plaques also adorn the gardens with the names of some of those who helped.
“We never went in debt for anything more than our property,” Wait said. “So what you see is all paid for.”
The Garden currently has two certified teachers who lead the kids on tours and teach them about plants and vegetables, and Wait said there are over 80 volunteers who spend some time there during the weekdays and even weekends.
“When you bring people in here, it's just amazing,” Jones said. “They just get excited and say they can’t believe this is here.”
As far as the future of the Children’s Storybook Garden and Museum goes, Jones said funding is still needed to purchase a giant treehouse that will sit on the site, and there are plans to develop part of the currently unused land to rent out for weddings or other events.