Growing Gardens for Body and Mind
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Growing Lifelong Vegetable Eaters
In addition to growing new home gardeners, Growing Gardens is also working with elementary school children in after-school garden clubs and summer garden camps through its Youth Grow program. “Connecting kids to their food sources is really valuable,” says Caitlin Blethen, “because . . . they’re more likely to eat what they’ve grown. A lot of times, they’ll say, ‘Groooss, broccoli!’ But when they see it on the plant, and pick it, they’ll eat it. That’s what we’re hoping for — to create good connections between kids and fresh vegetables, and where they come from, so they can continue to grow their own food in the future.”
In 2009 Growing Gardens worked with four Portland elementary schools. “We work with schools where at least 50 percent of the student body is eligible for free and reduced-price lunch,” explains Debra Lippoldt. All four schools participate in the city’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program, a community partnership program that provides resources for schools to coordinate and offer extracurricular educational, recreational, social, and health services to their students and surrounding neighborhood. Those services in part encourage the formation of active parent programs and after-school clubs.
Schools are stressed and busy places, especially resource-poor schools that serve low-income populations. Given this reality, Growing Gardens realized it would be inappropriate to try to create new demands or new structures for the gardening activities it hoped to implement. Instead, Growing Gardens piggy-backed onto existing school structures: The active parent program allows Growing Gardens opportunities to meet with parents to explore their needs, answer questions, and hear their suggestions. And the after-school clubs are a perfect platform for the garden club program.
Students can sign up for different clubs three times a year, with each club lasting about eight weeks and meeting once a week for two hours after school. Begun in 2000, Growing Gardens’ after-school garden clubs always include hands-on physical activities. Children plant seeds, transplant them, compost, tend worm bins, harvest and prepare vegetables, identify insects, and work as a team.
When Growing Gardens works with a school, it makes a commitment to offer the garden clubs for at least three years. The clubs are free, with parental sign-off, and each can handle up to 15 children. Some schools allow children to enroll in the garden club as many times as the child might wish, while others impose term limits. Growing Gardens’ experience is that children benefit from ongoing participation in the garden club, learning more about their food, gardening, and environment, and some children have even participated over several years.
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