Susan Smith looked around at all the little hands ready to start digging in the dirt.
“Who likes to garden?” Smith, holding a pitchfork, asked the group of Head Start preschoolers at the entrance of the Crawfordsville Community Garden.
The children had gathered for a hands-on nutrition lesson presented by the Montgomery County Farm to Food Coalition, which is working to put more locally-grown foods in school cafeterias. Throughout the month, students are working side-by-side with the Montgomery County Master Gardeners to plant vegetables and other staples in the garden, a participating site in the Summer Lunch Program.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about gardening and how to garden, but then also where their food comes from,” said Holly Catron, community wellness coordinator for Purdue Extension’s Nutrition Education Program, a coalition member.
“And then the other benefit is that if they can see how food is grown and even help participate in that, they’re more likely to try healthy food like fruits and vegetables,” Catron added.
More than a dozen children spread out across the garden planting herbs, rhubarb, potatoes and flowers donated by Bonnie Plants. During lunch, they tasted turnips, radishes, romaine lettuce and spinach.
Teaching about the healthful benefits of home-grown foods is part of the coalition’s three-pronged approach to promoting fresh ingredients. The group aims to procure food from local sources and put local foods on school lunch menus.
The coalition has received a grant from Purdue Extension to serve food grown in Nicholson Elementary’s garden at the school. That would require approval from food service provider Chartwells, which has partnered with the district’s registered dietician for nutritional lessons and taste tests.