GOSHEN -- Hands were dirty at the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen Wednesday afternoon, May 29.
A group of more than 25 children clustered around four box plots, breaking ground in the club’s new victory garden for the first time. They planted and watered seeds for tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and peppers. Robert Gunn, an eighth-grader in charge of organizing the Garden Club, was one of them.
“I love getting dirty and growing my own food,” said Gunn, 14, of Goshen, who also has a garden at home. “I am helping the kids learn how to plant. Everyone’s so excited to see what will grow.”
With the support of staff, attendees will be responsible for daily care and harvesting. The garden is one of several initiatives in a four-year commitment the club made last September to address hunger and wellness issues.
The programs will work in conjunction with a new cafeteria, funded this spring by a $250,000 grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation. Adrianne Penner, associate executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen, believes their work is about exposure and education.
“We took a step back and said, ‘How can we serve food better?’” said Penner. “A lot of our kids wouldn’t be able to go into a grocery store and tell you what the produce is. If we can show them, teach them, give them experience – not just in growing, but in cooking – they’re set to make decisions for themselves.”
Despite only having space to seat 42 kids, the club serves about 360 snacks to children on a daily basis, as well as 140 dinners in the evenings to more than a third of its attendees.
In addition to a larger cafeteria, the club will build a teaching kitchen for kids to gain “cooking experience that will equip them for a lifetime,” Penner said. “Many kids cook for their siblings right now, so it’s not just about preparing them for the future; it’s also about addressing current needs.”
In summer 2013, the club banned soda and junk food, organized a 5K run for kids and their families, and worked with the Chamberlain Neighborhood Association’s garden. Penner has also talked with local farmers about providing produce for meals. “Where we are now compared to where we were a year ago is huge, “ Penner said. “But we still have a long way to go. Our own garden means that all the kids can be involved.”
Erica Lint, cafeteria supervisor and garden coordinator, plans to help the children utilize the garden’s produce in both the club’s kitchen and at home. “When we give these kids responsibility, it’s amazing how hard they work,” Lint said. “This garden is coming from seeds, but soon they will have skills and food to take home to their families.”
After Wednesday’s watering, the kids have the summer to wait for their plants to sprout.
Gavin Fulkerson, a fifth-grader at West Goshen Elementary, said “They’re always better for some reason when you grow them yourself.”