Mill Creek MetroParks’ Children’s Veggie Gardens Program teaches kids gardening basics.
BY NATALIE LARICCIA
It’s perfectly acceptable to play in the dirt at the Children’s Veggie Gardens Program at Mill Creek MetroParks Farm in Canfield.
In fact, that’s pretty much the point of the program. Kids are encouraged to get their hands dirty, while having some good, clean fun and learning some valuable gardening skills, said Lynn Zocolo, Veggie Gardens coordinator and assistant horticulture educator at Fellows Riverside Gardens.
The annual children’s program has been offered through Mill Creek Park’s Fellows Riverside Gardens for the past 17 years. The two-year program is offered to 24 area children. The only criterion for participation is that the child must have completed second grade, Zocolo said.
“This program gets kids outside in a controlled environment. We try to teach them gardening basics, but at the same time, we want them to have fun,” she said.
Started as a youth program that focused on planting, growing and harvesting crops, Veggie Gardens has expanded to include such topics as cooking, journaling and photography, she said.
Originally the program took place at Fellows Riverside Gardens, but it has been at the MetroParks Farm at 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road in Canfield since 1999. The program officially begins in June and ends in August, with weekly Wednesday meetings from 9 to 11 a.m.
Zocolo said each child is responsible for maintaining a small garden plot, and throughout the program, the children plant more than 20 kinds of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
The children participate in a variety of gardening activities, lessons and experiments. There are lessons about gardening-tool safety, composting and mulching, and each child makes a personalized scarecrow for his or her plot. The children also participate in cooking classes, where they are able to sample recipes using some of the vegetables grown in their plots, she said.
Each year’s program features a different theme. The 2009 theme is “Veggiepalooza,” focusing on growing unique crops, including dinosaur kale, pretzel beans, quinoa and yard-long red noodle beans, she said.
Zocolo said the program provides children an opportunity to develop pride and self confidence. With the natural evolution of gardening, the children are able to see the direct results of their efforts from the beginning to the end.
The program can also foster an interest in gardening that can be carried on for the rest of the child’s life.
“We’re growing gardeners here, and we’re growing smiles. If I see a child who’s having fun and picking up a little of what we’re trying to do, we’re accomplishing what we’ve set out to do,” Zocolo said.
Veggie Gardens is administered by Fellows Riverside Gardens, and program funding is provided by the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens. Participating children pay a $75 annual fee.
Grown in popularity
Zocolo said the program has grown in popularity over the years, and there is already a waiting list for the 2010 program.
Any area child who has completed second grade is eligible to participate. First-time program participants are invited to participate for the second year. Spots for first-time participants, meanwhile, are reserved on a first-come, first served basis upon payment of the annual fee.
Zocolo attributes much of the program’s success to her dedicated volunteers.
This year’s volunteer staff includes 17 adult volunteers and 17 Green Thumb volunteers. Green Thumb volunteers are children who have completed the two-year Veggie Gardens program.
Interested children and their families can call Fellows Riverside Gardens at (330) 740-7116 for more information or to be placed on the 2010 program waiting list.