On ‘tomato’ day Ron, a Head Start preschooler had a particular and very vocal disdain for tomatoes. The garden instructor held up some spaghetti sauce and asked the class (but especially Ron) if they liked spaghetti with red sauce. “Eww, yuck! No!” was his reply. Ok… she dug a little deeper into her bag and pulled out a frozen pizza box and explained that pizza had tomato sauce on it, she asked if Ron liked that. “No way! I hate tomatoes and anything made with them!” he answered. Then, she said “I’ll bet this next item that is made from tomatoes is one that you like.” And with that she pulled out a bottle of… “KETCHUP??!” Ron exclaimed with a look of part wonderment, part horror. The instructor could see the wheels turning in the child’s head as he was grappling with the fact that he both loved ketchup and thought he “hated” tomatoes. This type of connection is made on a regular basis in the Garden Sprouts learning garden as children discover the origins of the food that they eat.
Downtown Greens is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to serve as a community resource in the historically low-income neighborhood of Darbytown in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We maintain a 2.78 acre, sustainably-maintained urban greenspace open to the public sunrise to sunset 365 days a year, and offer garden-based education to over 250 preschool- to middle school- aged children in our area through our Youth Farm Program, Youth Garden Club, and Garden Sprouts Program. We teach children about where food comes from and how they can grow it themselves through hands-on educational experiences.
Each of our three garden-based youth programs is free and open to all who wish to participate. Our Youth Garden Club is a seven-month, weekly drop-in program for children up to age eight and their caregivers (ages five and under). The Youth Farm Program, also seven months, provides in-depth learning for older youth ages eight through twelve. Garden Sprouts is offered in collaboration with Fredericksburg Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative, two programs that provide early childhood education to low–income and at-risk children. It is offered from September through May of each school year to preschoolers ages two to four.
During the outdoor garden classes there are opportunities for each child to plant, water, care for and harvest their vegetables. There is time for weeding and preparing the soil for planting, which allows for discussions on the importance of good soil as well as some old fashioned digging (a favorite activity for most children in our groups!). The young gardeners plant seeds directly in their garden, where we can discuss planting and harvest dates and concepts of eating seasonally. Students are able to witness the complete life cycle of a plant.
When we were forced to cancel our youth education programs because of the pandemic we looked to our community to see what needs were strongest and fresh food that didn’t require a trip to the grocery store or pantry was high on the list.
In the first season of our Free Farm Stand we have grown and donated more than 1,000 pounds of produce to the local community! Every week, we join forces with other generous farmers and businesses to bring food to the community in need right here in our area.
Established as a response to the pandemic, our now-permanent, 256-square-foot “Take What You Need Community Solidarity Plot” contains organically-grown vegetables and herbs requested by our neighbors. Planted next to the public bus stop on our property, the plot contains signage in four of the most spoken languages in our community, inviting neighbors to harvest fresh food as needed.