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July 2012 | Issue 72

Kids Thrive with Vegetable Gardening

A gardening program that teaches kids to grow, cook and eat cancer-fighting vegetables is flourishing in Austin, Minnesota. Thanks to Hy-Vee grocery stores and the Austin Public Schools, Sprouts – Get Out and Grow® is teaching gardening, good nutrition and cooking to children ages 3-9 for a second summer.

Jen Haugen, RD, LD, developed the program based on her own lifelong love for gardening. "There is such a great need to foster the connection of fresh food to good health for children," she says.

The Sprouts program started last year with a grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program. The schools' shop classes built raised garden beds and Hy-Vee employees built a fence around the garden area on the store's property.

Haugen says the program's main goals are to:

  • teach children to make healthier choices through eating more fruits and vegetables
  • teach the link between fresh food and good health
  • teach kids how to prepare healthier meals
  • reinforce positive perceptions of healthy foods
kids cooking

Sprouts program kids preparing
veggies they grew.

The school system handles the registrations and permissions and transports 25 children a week to the garden. Haugen plans the garden, which is organic, and the learning activities. This year, she chose 19 vegetables that would produce a continuous yield of veggies for the kids to enjoy throughout the summer. The season kicked off with a planting party on May 3.

Produce: Exciting Results

"I didn't expect them to get so excited about seeing things start to grow," Haugen says. "The cherry tomatoes came out early this year. The kids shouted when they saw them hiding under the leaves – they all wanted one."

The kids also learn to weed the garden. "The garden teaches kids that not everything is perfect and to be patient if a plant doesn't grow or if it is late producing."

Each class ends with kids making the vegetables into an easy, healthy and yummy dish. They also get a newsletter that covers what they learned that day, the recipe and questions parents can ask to reinforce the nutrition information they learned.

Scientists from the nearby University of Minnesota's Hormel Institute bring interactive lessons for the kids. Recently, kids learned to match different vegetables with the names of their antioxidants.

Leaf detail

A scientist from Hormel Institute
talks to the kids.

Last year an August harvest party brought together the school superintendent, community partners, kids and their families to celebrate the garden's success. Each family went home with a box of produce and healthy recipes. "A lot of parents hadn't seen the garden and were really impressed," Haugen says. The event fueled a lot of interest for this year's program and inspired Hy-Vee to set up the program at 40 of its other stores in the Midwest.

Results That Last Year-Round

"When kids see me doing cooking demonstrations with vegetables in the store during the school year, they start saying 'I want some.' But their parents often tell them they won't like it and discourage them. Parents think kids only want candy, and it's not true," says Haugen.

"We also tell kids, 'Don't yuk another person's yum.' That is, if you don't think a certain vegetable tastes good, it's okay if someone else does think it tastes good. They seem to understand it and even tell other kids."

Visit the Sprouts – Get Out and Grow® Web page, or Jen's blog.

Published on September 4, 2012

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