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Verndale's Summer Rec program a growing experience

The raised-bed gardens were an opportunity for kids to watch their food grow.1 / 2
Ryan Hahn shows off a pepper grown in the garden.2 / 2

"I liked eating the green beans," said Ryan Hahn, a Verndale elementary school student. He was talking about his garden -- the garden he helped plant in his school's summer recreation program.

Morgan Wiese and Garet Youngbauer, fellow participants in the program, agreed wholeheartedly.

"I liked watching the plants grow," said Garet, expressing pleasure that animals couldn't reach the vegetables growing in the three raised beds built by the shop class before school let out in the spring. Morgan liked playing the part of a rabbit, though.

"I liked eating the lettuce," she said, and added that she brought her mom to see the garden.

It might be a little surprising that the garden was these kids' favorite part of summer rec, considering the other offerings: crafts, softball, basketball, soccer, swimming, library time and field trips. But the garden project was special from the time the representatives of Randall's Farm of Plenty community garden visited the school in the spring.

"They were so interesting," said Vickie Thompson, who coordinated the Summer Recreation Program for the first time this year. "They talked about the history of gardening, the different kinds of corn, potatoes and other vegetables and the nutritional value of different colored vegetables. They also let the kids taste stevia and lemon basil."

Thompson, who has helped with the summer rec. program for the last fifteen years, attended a Farm to School workshop in Brainerd. That got her thinking about the possibility of planting a garden with the kids in the summer program. By combining the gardening project with a nutrition education program, the kids learned about the importance of healthful eating.

"Donna Anderson came in two times per week for most of the summer," said Amanda Wiese, a paraprofessional who along with Stacy Finck assisted with the program.

Anderson is the nutrition education assistant for Wadena County Extension. She taught the kids about the nutrients in vegetables, how to prepare fun and nutritious meals and snacks with both raw and cooked vegetables, hand washing and food safety techniques.

Foster grandparents got involved, too, and were excited to share their gardening experiences with the younger generation.

The Verndale summer recreation program was supported with grants from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), Second Harvest, West Central Telephone, Operation Round-up, Verndale Lions and the city of Verndale. The program, divided into early morning, morning, afternoon and late afternoon sessions, was for K-6 grade kids. Families paid $10 per child per session with the fee covering two weeks of activities. Responses on parent surveys included, "awesome" and "it's the best program in the county."

Thompson said that food grown in the three 4' x 8' raised beds supplemented the meals and snacks served in the summer program. Wiese and Thompson listed the vegetables they grew in a relatively small space: pumpkins, corn, beans, radishes, carrots, six kinds of tomatoes, six kinds of peppers, three colors of cauliflower, broccoli, celery, kohlrabi, lemon cucumbers and regular cucumbers, stevia and basil.

Pumpkins, corn and peppers from the garden are on display in the school office. If you ask the kids which ones they grew, they'll tell you exactly who planted what. That's a memorable experience.