If you can teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime — and if you teach a child to garden, you can also feed him for a lifetime. That’s the idea behind Growing Young Minds, a health and educational initiative that is taking root at daycares, shelters and elementary schools in North Columbia.
After being inspired by Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard project years ago, Matt Costello, executive director for the Eau Claire Promise Zone, had always wanted to put community gardens in places where there was a need. Fortunately, last summer he saw that the Bi-Lo Holdings Foundation was calling for grant proposals to fund a project that was food-centric and specifically benefited children. He reached out to Ed Brogdon of Back to Eden LLC, a community garden designer and healthy lifestyle advocate, to partner on this project for the good of the community.
“At the Promise Zone, we follow the West African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child,” Costello says. “It sounds easy, but to get it all into action is a whole different matter. That’s the concept of this grant — Bi-Lo Holdings, the expert gardener, the churches and daycares are all needed to make this project work.”
Their initiative received the funding, and both Brogdon and Costello got to work. Ten gardens were installed at churches, daycare centers and schools in the 29203 area with the help of Benedict College’s service learning students.
“[One of the garden sites], Grace Academy, has a similar vision, to allow the garden to be a learning platform and teach gardening as a lifestyle,” Brogdon says.
Revitalizing the community through providing education, activities and community support is exactly what the not-for-profit Eau Claire Promise Zone is committed to doing in North Columbia, and this project falls right in line with those values, Costello says.
Each of the gardens is located within steps of the facility and the children are involved daily in the work involved to keep the garden bounty prosperous. The first garden was installed on April 26 and already children are seeing the fruits, and vegetables, of their labor.
“The kids can create their own salad or top their own sandwiches with food that they themselves grew and watered,” says Costello. “They are growing their own food literally, eating their own tomatoes and beans.”
It’s not always easy to get kids to eat their vegetables, Brogdon acknowledges, but he knows that a hands-on approach is the way to go.
“If you let a child plant a tomato or pepper, they are going to take it home and show mom and dad, and they’re going to want the same thing to happen at their home,” he says.
The benefit for children and families is easy to see when families are engaging together in an activity that is rewarding to both the family and the community. Brogdon recalls a time that point was driven home for him.
“At Precious Jewels Childcare Center, the owner’s young son helped us plant their garden,” he says. “I had taken turnip green clippings over there to transplant, and the mom came up to me to tell me that her son is now eating leafy green vegetables that he had never touched before.”
To continue introducing gardening as an attainable lifestyle, Brogdon is working on organizing a tour of community gardens at churches, to showcase the concept to a wider audience.
“Faith-based organizations are being looked at by the National Institutes of Health as a key component for teaching people in the community.”
Having a full-fledged program would allow people to be exposed to it as frequently as they go to church, which for some is every week.
“It’s great when you have kids and families embrace this concept so genuinely and make growing their own food a part of their lifestyle,” he says.
And that kind of lifestyle can feed these families for a lifetime.
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