Giving Little Green Thumbs a Head Start: How the GroMoreGood Garden Grant Helped an Ohio School Flourish
In a normal school year, teachers play a critical role in keeping our kids curious, engaged and excited to learn. But this school year will be anything but normal. As schools throughout the country continue to balance remote learning with in-person classes, this already tough job has gotten even more difficult and more important than ever.
October 5 marks World Teacher’s Day, a day in which we appreciate those who educate our kids and help prepare them for the future. In honor of this day, I sat down (virtually) with Lynné Steinhaus, the project-based learning coordinator at Kids Care Elementary in Columbus, Ohio––a partner with Kids Care Academy (KCA). KCA also partners with Head Start, who provides early childhood education and parent involvement services to low-income children and families. KCA Head Start was a recipient of our 2020 GroMoreGood Garden Grant with National Head Start Association, which Lynné used to build and grow their garden from scratch. With the backdrop of the pandemic, I wanted to get her insights on how children and families have been impacted by growing their own fresh food in the KCA garden, as well as the role the grant played in helping teach kids about healthy eating and where food comes from.
Q: What should we know about the Kids Care Academy and the community it serves?
Our program was established in 1996 to offer parents safe, enjoyable and quality education and childcare for their children in Columbus’ northeast side. Over 80 percent of families we serve come from low-income neighborhoods. A majority of our families are also of African American and Latino descent. Right now, our numbers are lower due to the pandemic, but we currently work with close to 80 children. Most of our families are referrals or families who we have worked with for years, which really reflects how valued KCA is within the community. Even alumni, who are now parents, are sending their children here. We are currently partnered with two Head Start entities, Ohio State University Early Head Start and Child Development Council for our preschool program.
Q: Why was Kids Care Academy Head Start in need of the GroMoreGood Garden Grant?
Many of our families live in food deserts and have low incomes, so quality, affordable groceries are hard to come by for many. As a result, most families purchase their groceries from convenience stores inside gas stations. In addition to a lack of access, there is a lack of understanding surrounding nutrition in our community. That’s where the GroMoreGood Garden Grant came in. With the grant, we could finally put into motion our plans to build a garden to teach children how to grow their own food and introduce much needed fruits and veggies into their diets. This grant not only allowed us to build our 40 x 40 garden but also provided critical access to the essential supplies needed to create and maintain a garden of this size. Additionally––and as a teacher I really appreciate this––the grant provided us with gardening lesson plans to help guide our learning experiences with our kids.
Q: Even with the pandemic, KCA was still able to use the grant to plant its garden. How did KCA’s plans change due to COVID-19?
We had big plans before the pandemic that included a community garden building day in the spring. As a new reality set in, given the pandemic, we postponed the garden build to July and followed proper precautions, allowing only small groups in the garden at a time, to keep everyone safe. Thankfully, before the pandemic, we hosted a parent meeting where we invited families into the planning process. We asked them to list the plants most important to their culture as well as any fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables they would like to see grown in the garden. And we were able to grow almost all of what our families wanted!
Q: How has the garden been utilized since it’s been planted?
Once the garden was built in July, we hit the ground running and haven’t looked back since. In addition to the main garden, we have raised beds by our preschool playground and infant and toddler playground so all of our kids have multiple opportunities to experience the growth, beauty and food every day. Seeing my students get excited about the reddening of a tomato or the size of a zucchini fills me with joy. We’ve been able to use those moments in the garden as a way to educate our youngest and our most at-risk learners on the importance of healthy nutrition, biodiversity, pollinators and sustainability. There is also a purpose for the fruits and vegetables we grow. Because most of our families either don’t work or lost their jobs during the pandemic, we’ve given the food we grow to local families experiencing food insecurity.
Q: What are the plans for the garden in the future?
Thanks to the GroMoreGood Garden Grant, the garden has opened up a new aspect of learning for teachers and children. Without question, we would like to expand the garden spaces across the school grounds, so that we’re able to grow even more fruits and vegetables for our children and their families. Helping kids become more intentional about the healthy food they eat and get excited to learn about new foods through gardening is something we want to continue offering at a larger scale in the future.
Supporting school gardens like the one at Kids Care Academy is one of many ways we are committed to GroMoreGood for our communities, planet, consumers, partners and each other.