Preschool youth at Parkview Huntington ‘Y’ eating veggies because they’re raising them

Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

What’s got the preschool youth at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA all excited about eating their veggies?

On any given day a child may be seen clutching a radish, or a green pepper or even some broccoli that they take home with pride.

That pride comes from having had a hand in raising the vegetables, thanks to a program partnership between the Y and the Purdue Extension, using grant funds to build a raised garden container in the playground yard.

“Look – there’s a pepper,” says Maeva Hannie, 4, one of the pupils in the Y’s preschool class, as Purdue Extension-Huntington County Program Assistant Becky Arnett helps her pick it to take home.

The garden began to take shape last spring, says Y Early Childhood Development Coordinator Karen Teusch.

“I received a grant from Todd Latta, our CEO, and I was challenged to come up with something creative and different – a different learning experience for the kids,” she explains. “With my idea with the garden, I already knew Becky from here and I’m like — perfect! She already is so experienced with all of that and her community garden.”

Arnett, who also works part-time at the Y, is in charge of the Purdue Extension’s Helping Hands Community Garden, and had plenty of recent experience building the raised-bed garden there, which is now in harvest.

Arnett said the garden is made with concrete blocks, which are set on their sides so the holes could be filled with marigold and nasturtium flowers. Teusch and her pupils in the Y’s preschool camp painted the outside of the blocks, using stencils to make it colorful.

Inside, there is room to grow tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, broccoli, onions, lettuce and radishes. The seeds and plants came from the Extension office, which had plenty left over from the community garden to share.

The preschool camp kids planted the garden when it was in session, and now the preschool class is taking care of the plants and harvesting the vegetables. When a crop is ready to harvest, the children can keep the vegetables they pick.

“My suggestion was to make a salad garden for a theme,” Arnett adds. “If something works, then plant it again.”

Arnett is also planning to have the kids plant milkweed next spring, which attracts butterflies – especially the colorful monarch butterflies – which will also be beneficial for next year’s vegetable garden, she says.

Teusch says the garden is one way she wanted to give the preschoolers a project that involved more hands-on learning.

“I thought this was something the kids would enjoy,” Teusch says. “This is science. I’m always trying to incorporate more science into our program … I challenge myself every year to come up with something different.”

The Parkview Huntington Family YMCA has partnered with Purdue Extension on several other programs, including Power Club, a program for middle-schoolers, a homeschool nutrition class and the fourth-grade health fair.

“Purdue is always looking for some way to collaborate with other agencies, as the Y is too,” Arnett says. “You reach more people and you just have that much more information at your fingertips. So it’s always a good thing.”

Joy Koch, the Y’s director of development and marketing, says she appreciates the opportunities that working with Purdue Extension affords its members, especially to the youth.

“It’s so valuable to be able to do things where they have the expertise in that, in nutrition and in gardening, and we want to enhance the opportunities to our kids and families here, so we definitely appreciate all that Purdue Extension does to help the community and our programming,” she says. “They do it very selflessly.”