Lettuce Turnip The Beet

By Pam Blaker

As part of our UP STREAM program, we in the Greene County Department of Recreation in Waynesburg, Penn., hold a program focusing on Healthy Eating, Healthy Lifestyles.

The UP STREAM program is a one-and-a-half-hour class during a six-week summer day-camp. Two sets of instructors travel to each of the four day-camp sites twice a week, from 10:10 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. The title of this year’s program is From Garden to Garbage with the theme “Lettuce Turnip the Beet.”

The process of gardening incorporates play and hands-on activity—two values vital to a child’s learning experience. Although gardening might simply be a hobby for adults, it can open up a new world for children. From the planning stage until harvest time, gardening provides children with endless opportunities to explore while learning math and science concepts as well as social science lessons, without ever realizing they’re learning. Gardening with children can be as simple as a one-pot container on a patio or a larger garden plot.

Creating real-life experiences and connections to the current curriculum, which addresses nutrition, the five senses, plants, sustainability, economics, farming and food production, inspires young people to be “adventurous eaters” and to develop curiosity about the origin of their food.

Many of today’s youth are two generations away from households where healthy foods were prepared at home from fresh ingredients (Neumark-Sztainer, 2012). Their parents want them to learn, but don’t have the skills themselves to teach them (Hammons & Fiese, 2011).

Down And Dirty
Lessons are prepared covering fruits and vegetables. Each week, classes deal with how fruits and vegetables grow, such as  tree, bush, vine, underground, aboveground, etc. Each child has the opportunity to plant seeds and established plants, as well as to learn general kitchen safety, basic cooking fundamentals, techniques and methods, cooking terminology, reading recipes, differentiation between spices and herbs, and learning how items that are no longer edible can be used for composting.

The department’s goal is to learn about basic gardening techniques, cooking skills, teamwork, and the development of healthy eating habits with the following objectives:

·        Learn the importance of healthy food choices
·        Increase knowledge of the origin of food
·        Encourage children to explore new foods and recipe creations
·        Examine basic culinary skills and terminology
·        Demonstrate knowledge and creativity with mini cooking competitions
·        Study positive and negative impacts of the environment, ecology, economics, and other social issues.

Lifelong Benefits
People who reported picking flowers, fruits, or vegetables, planting trees, taking care of plants, or living next to a garden during their childhood were more likely to show an interest in gardening as they aged, and to form lasting, positive relationships with gardens and trees (Lohr & Pearson-Mims, 2005). In two interview studies with adult gardeners, most respondents recalled vivid, positive memories of play and exploration in childhood gardens, which inspired garden ideas and a desire to garden later in life (Francis, 1995; Gross & Lane, 2007).

Growing nutritional food and learning ways to eat healthy is not only a lifestyle intervention for adolescents, but a way for children to become an active part of their own food, food safety, and lifestyle choices (Dixon, 2014).

Local Impact
Children learn about the benefits of buying produce from an independent, locally owned business. Supporting local service providers helps strengthen the economic base of the community. Where we shop, eat, and have fun makes a community home. The environmental impact is reduced by requiring less transportation, which contributes to less sprawl and congestion in local areas. A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.

Many new restaurants are offering farm-to-table dining. One example is the nearby Harvest Seasonal Grill, featuring seasonally changing menus with items less than 500 calories. The menu is built around sustainable and organic ingredients and changes every three months. Harvest and its chefs work with 75 local farmers to source the freshest and highest quality products available.

The concept is a focus on health and portion control. The menu covers seasonally inspired steak, poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes, with local and organic foods. Prices range from $4 to $25.

Enjoying the fruits of labor presents many sensory experiences, as each child can smell the flowers and taste harvested fruits and vegetables.

The following quotation is oft-quoted and full of social wisdom, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Pam Blaker is the Parks and Recreation Manager for the Greene County Department of Recreation in Waynesburg, Penn. Reach her at 724-852-5323 or pblaker@co.greene.pa.us.

Works Cited

Dixon, E., Condrasky, M. D., Corr, A., Kemper, K., & Sharp, J. (2014). “Application of a menu-planning template as a tool for promoting healthy preadolescent diets.” Topics in Clinical Nutrition. 29(1).

Francis, M. (1995). “Childhood’s garden.” Children’s Environments, 12(2): 183-191.

Hammons, A. J., & Fiese, B. H. (2011). “Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents?: Pediatrics, 127(6), e1565-e1574.

Lohr, V. I. & Pearson-Mims, C. H. (2005). “Children’s active and passive interactions with plants influence their attitudes and actions toward trees and gardening as adults.” HortTechnology, 15(3): 472-476.

Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012). “Changes in the frequency of family meals from 1999 to 2010 in the homes of adolescents: Trends by sociodemographic characteristics.” Journal of Adolescent Health Feb;

52(2): 201-6.


Camp Basics:

This six-week day-camp program runs throughout Greene County, Penn., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: There are four main camp sites with four pick-up/drop-off sites
Cost: $2 per day for swimming
Ages: 5 to 15

The day consists of:

10:00 a.m. - 11:40 a.m.—programming
11:40 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.—free hot lunch
1:00 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.—swimming
2:45 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.—snack