Preschoolers grow their own fruits and vegetables at the YMCA.
The term “snack time” doesn’t normally send kids scrambling to the vegetable patch, but the Garden Box program at the Woodbury YMCA is changing how kids think about food and where it comes from.
“We’re trying intentionally to bring gardening and the farm-to-table concept to kids at a very young age,” says Heidi Bardwell, executive director of the Woodbury YMCA. “It’s a YMCA initiative that really got its core elements from the early learning program.”
Experiential learning is another pillar of the early learning program, and the garden boxes offer a unique opportunity for young children to get early hands-on experience in a garden. The preschool and early learning centers are a good model for the garden boxes, Bardwell explains, because the kids are on-site so often. From seeds they plant themselves, kids watch greenery spring up week to week.
So, what’s popular? “Anything that grows fast,” Bardwell says with a laugh.
Anticipation also tends to sway some of the pickier eaters. Over the winter, preschoolers at the YMCA have been talking about what they want to grow in the spring. “They’re trying to do some things, like kale and lettuce, that maybe they haven’t tried before,” Bardwell says.
Watching plants grow from tiny seeds can be powerful, and you don’t need a large plot of soil or garden box to do it. “I was talking to Angela Thompson, our preschool program director, and really what we talked about was to just start small,” Bardwell says.
Start with growing peas or green beans in a sunny spot indoors, she explains. These veggies grow fast in our climate and are sure to make an impression. “You can start them inside and then move them outside, or just keep them inside completely,” she says. Farm-to-table? You can cut that down to living-room-to-table.
“Another thing that our curriculum talks about is even just starting out visiting some farmers markets with the little ones and having that conversation, and maybe then deciding what to grow,” Bardwell says.
If you find yourself still hunting for ideas, be sure to check out the Healthy Kids Initiative at ymcamn.org for further resources, tips and tricks