Students who attend the Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri eat a snack each day after school, but on Wednesday students at the Smithton site enjoyed a snack they prepared themselves.
As part of the Club’s 21st Century Community Learning grant, the Club must partner with a sheltered workshop. The Center for Human Services assisted the Club by building several raised garden beds behind the administrative offices, and throughout the last few months, Club members in the summer Gardening Program came to the office to help plant and water tomatoes, watermelon, jalapenos, banana peppers, green peppers, cucumbers, and squash along with several types of herbs.
“We planted the plants and pulled weeds every week,” said member Marshall Mankini. “We treated that thing with respect. Once we knew we were eating from it, we had to treat it with respect.”
Both Smithton members Mankini and Leah Landon have now been part of the garden from beginning to end — they helped during the summer program and also were among the members who cut up, seasoned and grilled some of those fresh veggies on Wednesday.
“It’s like building a skyscraper out of nothing,” Mankini said of helping with the garden all year. “You know what you’ve got in it. No one else has handled it but you.”
“It’s cool to let it grow and eat something you helped plant,” Landon said. “It makes me want to grill more.”
The Club makes an effort to teach students about healthy living, by incorporating physical fitness into activities, as well as teaching them about making healthier choices.
“In a world of fast food, kids don’t get a lot of fresh vegetables,” said Site Manager Judy Moore. “Many of them might not get them at home either. They may not be accessible because they can be expensive. Kids tend to steer away from vegetables, but when you do it in a new way, they like it more. One of the kids said, they get to try exotic things. It opens more doors for them. It shows them what fresh vegetables look like, that they don’t just come in a can.”
Moore’s plan seemed to work — the students each were eager to help slice up tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, eggplant, squash and zucchini, which were then seasoned and grilled. Each student commented on how good the veggies smelled while on the grill, and many had a second helping once back inside the school. When Moore asked how the final product tasted, there were several answers including “good,” “delicious,” “peachy” and “yummy.”
Not only did the program help teach students about forming healthy habits, Mankini said he thought it also helped with teamwork.
“At first we didn’t all get along, it was silent on the bus ride (to the garden),” he said. “But on the way back we were all talking. That’s how I met a lot of my friends.”
Phase two of the gardening project will include creating row beds and a greenhouse to help expand the program.
“We’re hoping to continue this next year,” said B&GC Communications Coordinator Emily Jarrett. “The goal is to see crops all year round.”