The 3- and 4-year-olds raced around the garden in search of a cucumber. When they finally found it, in a bed near the entrance gate, they were in awe of the giant green fruit sprouting out of the soil.
It was the beginning of a beautiful morning in a newly redesigned garden at our Next Generation Center in the Bronx. The Next Generation Center primarily serves teenage youth in foster care and young adults who have aged out of the system, but this garden serves a much younger crowd.
Our Go!Healthy team has spent time this year reclaiming and revamping green spaces in our sites across New York City, thanks in part to a USDA farm-to-school grant. We have planted or replanted gardens for use in food education, teaching our school-age children about the process of planting, cultivating, and cooking fruits, vegetables, and grains. And we have also planted native gardens, which require less human upkeep and help revitalize native species and restore natural spaces.
“It’s been such a wonderful opportunity to build and grow in the Next Generation garden,” said garden coordinator Ava Poon. “The possibilities seem endless with how we can use the space to educate our youth about nutrition, the natural world, and working outside. Especially while living in the city, it feels so exciting to foster the connection between where our food comes from in the garden to how it got on our plates in the classroom. “
At the Next Generation Center, the garden will be used to educate and feed the children at our Bronx Early Childhood Center. And on this day in the middle of August, the children walked from their classroom to the garden to see it in action – and to leave their mark on it.
During the first part of the morning, the children frolicked around the green space with magnifying glasses in hand. They saw budding tomatoes, cabbage, and several herbs, including thyme and sage plants, which they delighted in sniffing. They also were captivated by the ants, caterpillars, and other crawling critters that they saw moving through the space.
Then they headed over to an empty corner of the garden that will soon be converted into an outdoor classroom space. With copious amounts of glitter and a wide variety of colors, they painted rocks that will be used along the path into the garden.
Finally, they had the opportunity to taste the cucumber that they’d found on the day’s first scavenger hunt. Although some of the children were reluctant to give it a try, they all soon tasted the home-grown plant and were pleasantly surprised by its sweet and refreshing taste.
Although some of the 4-year-olds in this classroom will graduate to kindergarten when the school year begins in September, others will be back in this space to celebrate the fall with a pumpkin party in October.
Until then, they’ll continue to benefit from the fresh food that the garden produces for their classroom – including quite a few more cucumbers.