- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

A good harvest has always deserved a big party: Thousands of years ago in Greece, the gathering of crops was celebrated with festivals in honor of Demeter, the grain goddess. And of course in the 1620s, America invented its own special feast, Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, three dozen young part-time farmers at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast will follow in this ancient tradition by throwing a festival to show off their crops.
"This is fun I like taking care of these plants," Terrence Branch, 9, of Northeast said while harvesting carrots from his plot at the Youth Garden in the arboretum on a recent morning. "My mother gives [the vegetables] to my grandmother to cook."
That day, Terrence harvested what he called a "harvest bag" — a beige plastic grocery bag — full of carrots, squash, beans and lettuce.
"I already harvested the onions," he said.
Terrence, who goes to Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast, is one of up to 40 students who have spent a day and a half each week in a summer program that aims to teach inner-city children the art of farming.
Thursday's event, the annual Harvest Celebration Day, is the program's season finale. It starts at 10 a.m. in the arboretum's Youth Garden, just south of the Capitol Columns. There are signs for the Youth Garden inside the gates of the National Arboretum at 3501 New York Ave. NE.
The day will start off with a tour of the 75-square-foot miniplots the children have been responsible for during the summer.
"The program teaches responsibility because [the children] have to take care of something. They have to weed and water their plots," says Rindy O'Brien, executive director of the Friends of the National Arboretum, the organization that runs the summer program.
"The nice thing about it is when you show responsibility you see the results, and that's a learning experience for a lot of these kids," Mrs. O'Brien says.
More than 4,500 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have participated in the program since it started in 1971. The Youth Garden, which has an annual budget of about $100,000, is funded by charitable contributions from such organizations as the Washington Youth Garden Council and the Friends of the National Arboretum.
The summer program also includes environmental and nutritional education, such as learning what bugs do for the soil and the nutritional value of certain vegetables.
While weeding his plot, which includes green beans that were so ripe they were about ready to burst and a tomato plant that was growing so fast it needed a stake to hold it up, Terrence shared his new knowledge of insects.
"The ants are good for your garden because they make holes under the garden that helps air out the plants," he said.
Also at the Harvest Celebration, the children, dressed in vegetable costumes, will perform a skit they call "Queen of Crop," during which they will pick out their favorite featured vegetable, which will be labeled "Queen of Crop." Rumor has it Miss Broccoli will grab first prize.
While refreshments such as lemonade and iced tea are served, the children will receive awards for their gardening achievements; a best weeder, for example, will be selected.
Everyone is welcome to join the children's proud celebration, Mrs. O'Brien says.
For more information on the event or the program, call 202/544-8733.

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