By Jonah Holland
PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on any Tuesday or Thursday morning in the summer and you will find teenagers working and chatting between the rows of Swiss chard, beets, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers. Each week, a dedicated handful of area teens, aged 13-18, leave the comforts of air conditioning or lazing by the pool to learn and work in the Lewis Ginter Community Kitchen Garden. The project helps teens learn about growing vegetables, understand where healthy food comes from, and get active outdoors in the garden. The project is helping the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden meets the goals of the Let's Move! initiative, all while involving the teen volunteers in a valuable community service.
The Community Kitchen Garden is a large-scale gardening project that last year produced 12,454 pounds of fresh, local vegetables to give to Central Virginia’s neediest citizens. Last year alone, our contribution of fresh produce helped FeedMore (serving the Central Virginia Foodbank and Meals on Wheels of Central Virginia) provide an estimated 9,580 meals for Central Virginia’s hungry children and homebound seniors. FeedMore is just down the road from the garden, so the vegetables don’t travel more than five miles from where they are grown.
Here at the garden, we know it’s important that all of our citizens have access to healthy, fresh, nutritious food, but we also know how important it is that young people connect with nature and learn where their food comes from and how to grow it. What we’ve learned is that kids who grow their own food also want to eat it. Plus, gardening is great exercise and a fun way for kids to stay active and learn. That’s where the Community Kitchen Garden comes in, bringing these passions together!
“I didn’t know how to grow an edible plant myself, just flowers,” says Amy, 16. “But now I can grow [all kinds of] plants.” At home, she grows tomatoes, basil, and chocolate mint.
Daniel, 13, says after he started with the Youth Volunteer Program his dad gave him 2 tomato plants and a green pepper plant to take care of. Eating the fruits of his own labor is a different experience he says.
“I grew it, so I have to enjoy it more. There’s a sense of accomplishment to have grown and harvested the vegetables you eat.”
The Youth Volunteer Program is one of many ways the garden connects middle school, high school, and college-aged students, as well as young adults with special needs, with vocational programs and cooperative learning partnerships that provide hands-on learning in the garden and opportunities to grow healthy vegetables. These programs embody our mission, which is education, and our passion, which is bringing people and plants together to improve communities.