- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 11, 2008

Parents and children kicked off this year’s Growing Food Together program yesterday at the National Arboretum’s Washington Youth Garden.

The event was originally set to start May 3, but was postponed because of low attendance, said Kaifa Anderson-Hall, program director for the Washington Youth Garden. The initiative is designed to teach elementary school children in the District cooperation, team-building, responsibility, self-confidence, and environmental stewardship through the development of horticultural skills.

Gardeners faced obstacles yesterday, too, as last week’s heavy rains left the soil saturated. Most activities took place inside.

The gardeners plotted out their eight-by-10-foot lots and decided what plants to grow. Children colored in areas to map out which plants would go where.

“The kids did a lot of preparation,” said Ms. Anderson-Hall. “They colored in some areas red to represent tomatoes,” she said.

Then the families visited the garden for a brief orientation.

Given drier soil, the families would have begun planting yesterday, said Ms. Anderson-Hall.

The program has 25 families participating, including 27 adults and 40 children. Its focus is on young children but teenagers as old as 17 join in. One 3-year-old child is already experienced enough to know that his favorite vegetables to grow are sugar snap peas and squash.

“Any child who says their favorite things to grow are sugar snap peas and squash is like a master gardener. It’s very surprising,” Ms. Anderson-Hall said.

Some families are returning from last year, but the program tries to attract new families every year.

The program teaches about fresh foods, healthy eating and the origins of food. “We teach children that food doesn’t just appear on the shelves but from the ground,” Ms. Anderson-Hall said.

Guest speakers, chefs and nutritionists help educate the families.

Halfway through the 20-week program, the families hold an event called Harvest Day, when they pick their vegetables and prepare them.

The families are in charge of running the program. Other than Ms. Anderson-Hall, there are only two other program workers.

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