Garden Program Allows Kids to Get Hands Dirty With Gardening
One Minnesota program turns children on to the miracle of gardening for food.
Christa Berg instructs students on planting.
Margaret A. Haapoja
Boys and girls from College for Kids classes scrambled around the garden on a sunny morning planting tomatoes and cabbages for a Minnesota garden program. Instructors Christa Berg and Jennifer Behm encouraged them to dig deep holes so tomatoes can root all the way up their stems and carefully tamp the soil around cabbage seedlings. The young children in the Itasca Community College summer program also set out pepper plants and built a bean tunnel.
With a plot on the east edge of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, donated by the University of Minnesota North Central Research and Outreach Center, the Plant to Plate garden gathers volunteers of all ages to grow nutritious produce that is donated to the local food shelf – 1,000 to 2,000 pounds each season.
“The project mixes up a wide spectrum of folks, and the variety of ages and occupations working together is fun,” says Joan Foster, former Plant to Plate director. “And the gardens are right down the hill from the cow barn so the soil there is so fertile. You plant a seed there, and it just explodes.”
Jeff Janacek, who has volunteered with the program since it began six years ago, marvels that so many children had no idea where corn came from, or had never planted a seed in the ground.
“I think we’re making an impact there,” Janacek says. “Getting the kids’ hands dirty, when so much of what they do is sedentary and antiseptic these days, and getting them to plant something so they can see the fruits of their labor is pretty thrilling.”
Holly Downing and Laurie Benge, Itasca County public health nurses, are the project architects. Inspired by Frances Moore Lapp’s book Diet for a Small Planet, which emphasized organic gardening, vegetarian diets and local food, Downing enlisted Benge, her co-worker and an experienced gardener, to launch the venture Downing dubbed Plant to Plate six years ago.
Fifth-graders from Southwest Elementary School in Grand Rapids have been involved for several years, and teacher Nancy Mike-Johnson knows some of her students – now in high school – have had a home garden ever since fifth grade because of Plant to Plate. Former fifth-graders Jace Mann and Nicole Uzelac say they loved working in the gardens. Mann helps his grandmother garden during the summer and wishes he could return to Plant to Plate next year. The experience has inspired Uzelac to garden at home, and she plans to volunteer at Plant to Plate in the future.
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