Children’s Garden Club promotes food origins, nutritionAndrea Garnett, 8, reached out to run her hand through the wispy dill plant that stands waist-high in the raised garden bed. Garnett was among a dozen members of the Grand Forks Public Library’s first Children’s Garden Club.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Andrea Garnett, 8, reached out to run her hand through the wispy dill plant that stands waist-high in the raised garden bed.
“If you tickle it a little,” she said, “it smells kind of like pickles.”
“I love pickles,” her twin brother Matthew Garnett said.
They were among a dozen members of the Grand Forks Public Library’s first Children’s Garden Club, who gathered recently on the library’s north lawn to check out progress of the “crops” they planted this spring.
“Everything comes from the soil,” Camille McGoven reminded them.
McGoven is the children’s library aide who conceived the garden club idea as a way to increase kids’ awareness of food production and spark their interest in eating healthier.
She wrote a grant application that netted $340 in startup funding from North Dakota State University’s Junior Master Gardening Program.
The garden came to life with the support of library administration and staff, including Wayne Springer, maintenance supervisor, who built the four, 4-by-8-feet, raised beds.
Promoting healthy eating
Most club members are entering kindergarten through sixth grade. For some, it’s their first gardening experience.
McGoven is concerned that “kids don’t know where their food comes from,” she said. At one club meeting, in a lesson on hamburgers’ ingredients, a child said the meat came from a chicken.
Lack of knowledge about foods’ origins is connected to the nation’s obesity problem, she said.
McGoven, who also works as a dietician at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, has witnessed the effects of poor diet.
“In the hospital, I see the aftermath of diseases like diabetes and heart diseases — diseases that come from or are related to obesity.
“It’s hard, knowing that healthy eating could have had a part in preventing (those diseases).”
Encouraging children to choose healthy foods begins with building excitement, she said.
“You generate enthusiasm with the kids. They grow the plants, and the (healthy) eating comes from that.
“Plus, gardening is something they can do at home,” she said.
During each session, McGoven emphasized hands-on learning and brought in speakers to demonstrate techniques, such as composting and weeding, to successfully grow vegetables and herbs.
One guest speaker described her “pizza garden” where she grows ingredients — wheat, tomatoes, herbs — typically used in preparing pizza.
“It’s so great to see them learning and getting excited,” McGoven said. “At first, you want them to have fun, and then comes the ‘Oh, this is important too.’”
During a taste-testing session, she was surprised by how eager the kids were to try different vegetables, she said. “I was amazed they liked okra, which is kind of slimy when it matures. Their least favorite was the blueberry.”
McGoven said although she has some gardening experience, she’s no expert.
“It was a learning process for me too. Luckily, they say, plants want to grow.”
More than books
“This program demonstrates that libraries, literacy and learning are about more than just books,” said Wendy Wendt, library director, in an email. “Lifelong learning also requires active play, exploration, discovery and connecting with others, which library programs, especially this one, offer.”
“It’s a great program,” said Aaron Stefanich, children’s librarian. “Everyone who’s been involved is excited about it.”
The library will “definitely” offer it again next year, he said. “We’ll have (the) same focus on food and healthy eating.”
Learn, grow and eat
The children chose the plants they wanted to grow, such as tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, cilantro and dill. Each child’s row is marked by a name-bearing stake.
Rita Marie Sevigny, 10, of Grand Forks, pointed to her row of tomatoes and dill, and said,
“My onions didn’t come up. And someone dropped some lettuce in my row, so I guess I’m growing lettuce too.”
Jessa Robles, 6, of East Grand Forks planted the only sunflower.
Her grandmother, Sally Stoa of Buxton, N.D., said, “You kind of take it for granted that kids know where food comes from. Sometimes, I think they think it magically appears in the grocery store or in a can.”
She said the gardening experience will likely prompt the children to try more kinds of foods “because they’ve been involved in growing it and picking it.”
Amelia Garnett, Grand Forks, said her twins are showing more interest in healthy foods.
“I’m not nearly into chocolate so much anymore,” Andrea Garnett said. “I ate it so much, I kind of got sick of it.”
Meagan Olson of Grand Forks said the benefit for her daughter, Gabby, 5, is “seeing healthy things grow and bringing them home.”
Gabby can now recognize plants in others’ gardens too, she said.
The whole process of gardening is enriching for Elana Gomez, said her mother, Michele Willman of Grand Forks. “The fact that you start with a tiny seed and, in the end, you have something you can eat.”
When asked about the best part of the garden club, the 6-year-old simply state:
“eating,” as she chomped on a green bean.
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.