08/04/13 — Watching their garden grow

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Watching their garden grow

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 4, 2013 1:50 AM

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Myles Smith holds up an eggplant from the garden at Wayne Community College child care center.

Weekday mornings, soon after being dropped off at the Wayne Community College child care center, the boys and girls make a beeline for the playground.

But not in search of a jungle gym or wide-open space to run.

The newly minted little gardeners want to check on the progress of their garden.

"Every day, the children go to the plant bed area and they, of course, look for the different vegetables," said Phyllis Chesson, director at the center.

In one area, she points out, sunflowers are drying out and children will be able to pick out the seeds and replant them in a raised bed.

An herb garden features chives, basil, lemon balm, mint and rosemary.

They also have harvested strawberries, squash, eggplant, bell peppers and cucumbers.

"The birds ate all our blueberries," Ms. Chesson said.

The planting phase actually started in April, unless you count an earlier inadvertent foray into gardening.

"Last October, we had a pumpkin and so of course, we seeded it and all. We kind of threw the seeds out. They started developing into plants," Ms. Chesson said with a laugh.

This garden project is funded by a Shape NC grant, to address prevention of early childhood obesity. As part of the three-year, $3 million launch, partnering the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. Foundation and the N.C. Partnership for Children Inc., WCC's five-star-rated center was chosen to serve as the host of integrated trainings and programming for child care facilities and providers in Wayne County, said Lee Mitchell, program specialist with the local Partnership.

"The monetary grant has been distributed in phases," she said. "Initially it was $13,000 -- $10,000 to the Partnership, $3,000 to Wayne Community (child care center)."

The emphasis, Ms. Chesson said, equates to introducing physical activity and healthy eating choices to children.

"And also enhance the outdoor environment," added Ms. Mitchell, explaining that the Partnership was able to choose a model early learning center to implement the grant.

"It will be a host site for other centers within the community -- training teachers, seeing how nutritional foods have been introduced, and there is also a wellness piece for teaching staff," she said.

So far, the garden project has proven to be ripe with teachable moments for the children.

"Through the planting phase they were able to water (plants)," Ms. Mitchell said. "And they know their bugs."

"We found worms," said 4-year-old Garrett Blair.

"Caterpillars," corrected Caroline Waller, 5.

"I found some on the leaves," added Caden Scott, 4.

Charlene Clarkson, a teacher in the 3-4-year-old classroom, asked, "Who eats the bad bugs?"

"The ladybugs," replied Caden.

"We have to leave the ladybugs alone," his teacher cautioned.

Every child has something they're especially partial to when it comes time to harvest.

"Eggplant," said 3-year-old Jack Cunningham.

"I never tasted eggplant," admitted Ms. Waller.

"My favorite one was the cucumber," said Ms. Saylors, who said she also liked the "bumpy" squash.

Jack said his family has a garden at home, growing tomatoes.

The children also picked up on one of the first rules of successful cultivation -- you can't water the crops too much.

"Because they'll die," explained Ms. Saylors.

"They have learned a lot," agreed Ms. Chesson, adding, "It's going to be an ongoing project for us and process for the center. We have seen it be so successful with the parents as well as the children getting involved.

"In the afternoons we put what we have harvested for the day up with a sign for the parents to take them home. The children are just begging, 'Please take it home!'"

The produce has also made its way into snack time at the center and prompted families to share recipes for how they have used the vegetables at home.

Another by-product of the initiative has been incorporating other departments at the college.

A $1,500 grant from N.C. State University contributed to design work, which included permanent raised plant beds and continued enhancement of the project, Ms. Chesson said.

"We also planted trees on the outside of the playground for shade," she said. "We had lost all our previous trees from previous storms, so they definitely needed shade."

The college's forestry and turfgrass students were enlisted to plant the five trees donated by Casey's Nursery.