“I love farms!” the five-year-old boy exclaimed, as he ran around the farmyard holding a giant sunflower in his hands. Greene, a volunteer in the boy’s kindergarten class, had become concerned about him when she found out that in addition to being overweight, he was also at risk of Type II diabetes. Wanting to expose him to some healthy foods and physical activity, she got the school’s and his parents’ permission to take the boy and his sister on a field trip to a local farm. “On the drive out, he asked me, ‘What is a farm?,’” Greene says. “That blew my mind. It was something he knew nothing about, but once he was there, it came so naturally to him.”
Greene grew up gardening and appreciating wholesome foods. After nine years of working behind a desk, Greene realized that to find fulfillment she needed to make a drastic change. She left her job and minimized expenses so she could volunteer her time with programs she cared about, including the Kindergarten Center in Chaska and Hands for Harvest, a Green Isle farm that raises food for food shelves.
Watching the little boy happily dig in the soil inspired her to combine her passion for working with children and her enthusiasm for healthy foods and gardening to create Grow. Eat. Share. “My main objective is to get kids interested in gardening and help them learn about food from seed to plate,” Greene says.
In April 2010, Greene began checking with local businesses to see if they could offer donations of seeds and plants. “People in our community were so willing to help,” Greene says. The Mustard Seed in Chaska offered her garden space on their property and a kitchen to use, and a second garden plot was added at Shepherd of the Hill church.
Working with District 112 Community Education, Greene offered a summer and a fall program. Children entering first through tenth grades worked in the garden, cooked, created art projects and read literature related to food. “Our pesto smiley-face pizzas were a huge hit,” Greene says, “The kids went ‘grocery shopping’ in the garden, we made pizza sauce out of ‘leaves,’ and they picked out what they wanted to make a smiley face, which encouraged them to choose things they wouldn’t ordinarily eat. They just devoured those things!”
Without realizing it, the kids are also exercising as they bend down to plant or harvest, or dig or carry things around. All the food that isn’t consumed goes to a local food shelf.
Greene is excited about the how the program has been received so far. She has added a spring session to the 2011 Community Education calendar and can accommodate field trips and special events, like birthday parties. She is also preparing to open a new site in Inver Grove Heights.
Greene credits a shift in our culture toward more natural things as part of the reason for the popularity. “The thing that gets me is the simplicity of the program,” she says. “Look how complicated food becomes as it is processed. If you plant things in your garden, you know you didn’t put pesticides on it and that it’s fresh and nourishing.”
“I used to think you have to solve the whole world’s problems,” Greene concludes, “but then I heard the Mother Teresa quote, ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,’ and that really did it. You don’t have to think you are going to change everything, but make one little influence on a child, and they influence their family, and it spreads. Even little changes become a habit that they can embrace.”
Grow. Eat. Share. spring and summer classes are available through District 112 Community Education. Full and partial scholarships are available. Learn more about the program at Grow. Eat. Share.’s spring open house from 2 to 4 p.m. May 14 at the Mustard Seed in Chaska or by visiting groweatshare.com or calling Laura Greene at 612.961.0600.