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Secret Gardens

Community gardening helps kids learn from the land.
 

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Before DeShawn Haywood started attending Growing Healthy Kids after school, "I didn't really eat a lot of foods," says the 5th grader from Detroit. "Pizza, granola bars, corn, peas, bananas, popcorn." But six years into the weekly gardening and cooking program, DeShawn devours garlicky soup and basil and has sworn off soda. "I drink juice, healthy stuff," he brags.

DeShawn is one of 20 kids who take part in Growing Healthy Kids (GHK), a spin-off of Detroit's Earthworks Urban Farm. Created in 2000 by Brother Rick Samyn of the Franciscan order, Earthworks teaches city kids about the roots of real food. It operates nearly an acre of outdoor gardens and a 2,200-square-foot greenhouse. What grows there feeds the order's soup kitchen, inner-city residents, and a state-run program that offers local produce at deep discounts.

Earthworks is part of a growing trend across America of locally supported agriculture that "nurtures and nourishes kids." GHK brings children between ages 5 and 16 into the garden and soup kitchen at least once a week. Some weeks, kids mash inky blackberries into freezer jam. The next, they paint honeybee hives. When it's warm, they frolic in the gardens, eating straight off the vine.

DeShawn and his two siblings, ages 8 and 9, are proud to bring home greens they nurtured from seed and harvested themselves. That natural reward system has helped them become more adventurous in what they eat. "They fight over who's going to help me cook!" says their mother, Makeia.

 

Harvesting Knowledge
Twenty kids donned paper hats and red aprons to press pizza dough into circles. Guest chef Nick Seccia, from The Henry Ford restaurant, pointed to basil puree, which they used atop their pizza. He asked what basil tastes like. "Summer!" yelled one boy.

GHK coordinator Stacey Malasky walked between tables, peering over shoulders. "There's such a lack of fresh food available in the city," Malasky says. "It's important to give kids a safe place to be in touch with basic things like soil and plants."

DeShawn, who loves to show off his green thumb to older relatives, agrees. Young kids should get in the garden, he says. "If you come here, you learn about how the body works and how to stay healthy."

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