The other day, nineteen kids showed up at the Truro Rec Department. They were there to plant seeds: literal seeds, in planting flats, and also figurative ones. You know, the grand-idea ones people like Michelle Obama are always talking about. Only this time, it was local parents like Dave Dewitt and Francie Randolph and Stephanie Rein behind the dream.
Dewitt, Randolph, and Rein—the same three who started up the Truro Ag Fair last year—recently turned their attention to local kids. In hopes of getting them into gardening (and getting more biggest tomato contest entries for the fair), the Ag Fair has teamed up with the Truro Rec Department and the Truro Public Library to put in a kid-run community garden behind the library. Dewitt donated flats and seeds, Randolph spread the word to local parents and kids, and Rein coordinated building the raised beds. The Truro Ag Fair contacted the 4H wing of the Barnstable County Extension Program and is also partnering with Judy Vollmer, director of the county's 4H programs, to bring a curriculum of gardening lessons, art projects documenting the plants' growth, and junior chef contests to town. The first seedlings are already up, and on May 1 the group is hosting a garden party inviting friends and family members to help put the plants in the ground.
Like most grand ideas, getting kids into gardening isn't a new one, but it's good one. And an important one, especially considering the way childhood obesity and diabetes rates have been skyrocketing. Tending a garden, and learning about all the work and care and worms and mess that go into growing food, has been shown to make kids much more open to fresh vegetables and fruits. They want to eat what they've grown after all that hard work. That makes introducing these vegetables again later, at home, a lot easier.
Beyond this Truro effort, there are also a lot of other opportunities—a lot more than I realized—for kids to get into gardening on the Cape. Before talking with Judy Vollmer, for example, I had no idea that the county 4H program helps kids enter their whole home gardens in the Barnstable County Fair and then sends judges out to inspect. I didn't know there was a Junior Beekeepers Club in Falmouth or that kids at the Otis Air Station in Sandwich could join a Junior Chefs league. I hadn't heard that Coonamesset Farm in East Falmouth is starting up a 4H program on animal husbandry, or that they already offer a kids' summer farm and garden program called Little Sprouts. I had no idea that local master gardeners were pairing with kids in Marstons Mills and Brewster, or that in Falmouth anyone ages three to ten could learn to speak Spanish and tend a garden at the same time !
It's very exciting, all these kids with their hands in the dirt. Of course, the best part is that it might spark a lifelong interest: in gardening, in spending time outside, in eating fresh produce, and maybe even in cooking with it too. One of Vollmer's favorite 4H garden lessons involves taking the food from seed to table. The kids plant a pizza garden—tomatoes, oregano, onions, hot peppers—and then prepare a homegrown pie come harvest time. It might be early, but the first spring efforts are already up in our garden—tiny leaves of basil, fresh spinach, herbs, chives, and spring onions. We've made pizza with them before (the recipe is over here), and tonight, inspired by all these junior chefs and master gardeners, I think we'll do it again.