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Inspiring Washington Youth Garden Visit

Last week, I visited the Washington Youth Garden in the US National Arboretum to observe a field trip and chat with their Education Programs Manager, Charla Wanta.

Washington Youth Garden’s field trip program is called Science Program Reaching OUT (SPROUT). The program “invites youth and educators from all over the Washington metro area to visit to their demonstration garden site at the U.S. National Arboretum and is offered three days a week (Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays) from April through October.”

Charla started out the field trip asking if anyone has ever tried food from a garden, like tomatoes? One kid responded that they have had ketchup. This was the starting point of the day.

The kids were divided into groups by age, but all the groups gotto do the same activities.

There was also a brief woods tour where Charla instructed the kids to close their eyes and listen to how many birds they could hear. The kids loved the Nature Explore Classroom! Certified Nature Explore Classrooms are nature-based play and learning spaces.

The kids got to play a game describing pollination, by bees versus wind (the kids learned that bee pollination is more effective than wind pollination).

The kids got to taste honey from the bees in the garden. The kids also got to pick and taste carrots, collard greens, kale, onions, etc. (The red raspberry I picked was the best one I have ever had!) After picking, the kids learned how to wash the freshly picked veggies.

After the picking and washing, the kids got to cook what they had just picked. This was my favorite part of the field trip. The kids helped with cutting onions and garlic, tearing up lettuce leaves, grating carrots and beets, etc. The kids got to enjoy half pitas filled with things they just picked. After cooking and eating, the kids learned about composting! The cooking part comes full circle in teaching kids where their food comes from. Now they know that the food that they just picked is edible and delicious!

Charla and her team gave out notecards at the end where the kids wrote down if they had done something new, their favorite thing that day, or something they learned. Most kids couldn’t think of just one thing!

Programs like the Washington Youth Garden have an awesome power to teach kids about where their food comes from. Here is my Q & A with Charla that explains more:

Q: What do you hope kids take away after they visit the Washington Youth Garden?

A: I hope they try something new, whether it is pulling an onion out of the ground, tasting something new, touching a worm, etc.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: Some students come here from the city and they are wary of thegarden/outdoors or they are just “too cool’’ to try anything. But there are always a couple of those kids at the end who love it and want to work in a garden in the future. I appreciate when kids’ attitude to the outdoors changes. If I even change one kid’s perspective of the outdoors, gardening, food, etc. in a 90-minute field trip, I feel like I have done something right.

Q: Why do you think agricultural education is important for kids?

A: Three things—

1.     I think kids should understand how much work it is to grow food. It can be hard!

2.     I think city kids should taste and prepare real foods. It is away to get healthier and try new veggies.

3.     The garden is a “gateway drug” to the outdoors in general.

Q: What changes have you experienced in students as a result of outdoor farm-based education?

A: Outdoor farm-based education is a way to spark interest and curiosity in students. I like to give all the kids notecards at the end of the field trip for them to write down something they have learned, if they have tried something new and so on. I also like to ask their teachers what happens after the field trip—if they notice any changes. This helps us determine if this type of education is really working and allows us to get some data on it.

Thank you for having me, Charla and everyone at the Washington Youth Garden!


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