Children in Vermillion are learning more about gardening and healthy living through the Young Gardeners Club.
Supported by the Parks and Recreation Department, it was started in 2013 by parks technician Jessica Kennedy. The program runs for about three months, from the end of May until mid-August.
Kennedy said the program encourages children to explore the unknown.
“The goal is to teach kids how to grow their own food and to eat healthier and also to try new fruits and vegetables,” Kennedy said. “It’s always good for kids to try something new, eat healthier, get their hands dirty a little bit, experience nature.”
The garden also gives children who are unable to garden at home an opportunity to do so, Kennedy said.
Last year, the city paid for the program. This year, Hy-Vee gave the program $750 through the One Step Community Garden Grant. The funds were used to improve the garden plot and add more crops, Kennedy said.
One Step is a store-wide fund that donates money to organizations whose main purpose is promoting health and gardening among local communities. Vermillion’s HyVee sold One Step potato sacks and the proceeds went toward the grant.
Cinda Passick, a community member who helped get the grant approved, said they were encouraged to pursue a grant for the program next year.
In 2013, 12 children participated in the program who were ages 7-13. This year, 17 children signed up, Kennedy said.
The garden was recently expanded and fixed up this year. Instead of seeds, the club used plants that had already begun to grow to save time. Kennedy said she expanded the garden last spring.
Kennedy is also taking down and redoing the tomato lattice because she was not happy with how it was built, as it was a last-minute structure. The only immediate changes being made to the garden in preparation for this winter include removing annual plants, such as gourds, Kennedy said.
The club also added bushes and lattice to the outside to allow more space for vines to grow and made the garden plot more prominent, said Jim Goblirsch, Parks and Recreation director. The children made stepping stones, which were placed as a pathway through the garden.
Besides growing the vegetables, club participants also pull weeds, design the lattices and remove pests, Kennedy said. Once the crops are grown, the children are welcome to harvest them and take them home to their families. Kennedy has also provided recipes for families to use and will use some of the crops for other projects.
“She takes some of the corn stalks and puts them as farm decorations over here in city hall,” Goblirsch said. “I know one of the things they do is grow some gourds and then she hollows (them) out over the winter and makes little bird houses as another craft project for next year’s Gardeners Club.”
Goblirsch also said even though he is happy with the program, gardening itself can require a long growing season, possibly several months, which can put off some families for joining.
But Kennedy believes the program has been successful.
“Definitely the goal of teaching kids how to garden has been accomplished,” she said.
Kennedy added the garden’s location in Prentis Park is, in a way, carrying on the land’s heritage.
“Prentis Park used to be farm ground. It’s not anywhere near farm ground, but it still has that little aspect of what it used to be,” she said. “It’s kind of cool because every now and then when we’re planting a tree, we’ll find artifacts of what used to be, of pieces off equipment and stuff like that.”
Senior Morgan Appley, president of Sustainability Club, said a program like this is important for several reasons — but a little publicity wouldn’t hurt.
“It teaches kids to be self-reliant — it teaches kids about nutrition. It involves them directly in their food process… and they can take pride in having grown the food themselves,” Appley said. “I think that if more people knew about it, it could have more support, and I think that if more kids were involved, then there could be a greater impact, and… they could see it getting implemented in schools and other places.”
Appley added that offering a work-study or internship to students who are interested in helping out with programs such as the Young Gardeners Club would be a good idea.
Passick said having more children would be beneficial, but with Kennedy being one of the only volunteers, the number of kids able to join is limited.
“The person in charge, Jessica Kennedy, has done a really nice job with the program and has encouraged the kids participation,” Passick said.
Kennedy said the program’s future is in the hands of city officials and public interest.
“The big thing is gardening time consuming,” Kennedy said. “If we could get volunteers in the future to help keep the weeds down and do stuff like that, I think the program could continue.”
(Photo: Supported by the Parks and Recreation Department, the Young Gardeners Club was started in 2013 by Jessica Kennedy. This year, 17 children were involved in the club. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)