Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This Chinese proverb is the idea behind the Little People’s Garden in Montevideo, Minnesota.
“Children need to know where their food comes from,” said Liz Ludwig, Farm Service Agency county executive director. “It’s not made in a factory; it’s grown in the soil, raised by farmers and ranchers, and cared for by people we call farmers.”
Initiated by Ludwig, the Little People’s Garden — now in its fourth year — was planted at Kinder Kare learning center in Montevideo, providing preschoolers a hands-on opportunity to learn where their food comes from and how to make healthy food choices.
Eleven volunteers from nine agencies and organizations from around the Minnesota area work with the children, teaching them a lesson on food groups in which they pick lettuce, tomatoes, peas and radishes from their 4×8 Little People’s Garden, and put them into a salad for the kids to eat. Raisins, cheese, croutons and sunflower seeds are added to round out the food groups. They also have a lesson on tops and bottoms that allows the children to pick vegetables and determine if they eat the tops or the bottoms. Usually peas, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower are used as tops and bottom taste testers.
The tots see the rewards of their work each year as they plant, water and pick tomatoes, peas and cucumbers off of the vine.
“Last fall, they were digging potatoes out of the ground and a child pointed and shouted, ‘Potatoes!’ with a big smile and excited voice,” said Ludwig. “The kids are making connections. They are learning about their world. They are learning about their food.”
USDA offers interactive and exploratory lessons as a creative way to connect gardens with nutrition messages in the classroom. Whether your garden is large or small and your growing season is long or short, these materials can help you.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack began the People’s Garden Initiative in 2009 in an effort to challenge employees to create gardens at USDA facilities. Since that time it has grown into a collaborative effort of more than 1,200 local and national organizations working to establish community and school gardens across the country. To date, there are 1,918 gardens across the United States. Learn how to start your own at www.usda.gov/peoplesgarden