Children’s program links gardening, healthy lifestyle

Kids Growing Strong to train volunteers
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Roseville resident Sue Bennett is enthusiastic about gardening and wants to nurture that joy in others. Part of her quest is to get children in tune with a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle. Bennett is the north region coordinator and publicity chairwoman for Kids Growing Strong, a non-profit educational enrichment program. The organization was founded in 2001 and reaches 250,000 children and families each year, according to a press release. “I’ve been involved with Kids Growing Strong for probably seven years now,” Bennett said recently. The idea for Kids Growing Strong began when founder Maryanne Lucas put in a children’s garden at the Conejo Valley Botanic Gardens in Thousand Oaks. “Up to that point, they’d never had more than a couple of hundred visitors on a given day,” Lucas said. “On the opening day (of the children’s garden), they had 1,500 people. What they learned is that kids and families were interested in that. ... “So (we decided to) take the gardening experience to families so they could do (garden-inspired activities) at home and inspire them to get back to their roots.” Lucas grew up in inner-city Cleveland where there was no place to garden. ?When the Green Thumb program came to her school, it opened a new world to her. “For 25 cents I got my garden kit just before the end of school,” she said “My mom said, ‘where are you going to grow the garden?’?But she had it figured out.” Lucas’ grandparents had a small garden plot at their house and that’s where she started spending her weekends. “I got to see how things grow and we passed along things we grew to the neighbors,” Lucas said. “I’m trying to pass that forward because of the impact it had on my life.” Much of the Kids Growing Strong’s efforts so far have gone into informational and activity booths at garden shows and festivals around the state. But now, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (through the California Department of Food and Agriculture), the next step is launching a “train the trainer” program. “It’s for parents, caregivers, teachers or anyone who wants to learn what we can do to enrich the lives of children (in teaching them) where food comes from, what’s good to eat and what’s not good to eat,” Bennett said. “We’re creating healthy living habits through positive family experiences and those are the things that count,” Lucas said. Bennett is also second vice president of California Garden Clubs, Inc., which administers Kids Growing Strong, and she is getting a lot of support from local garden clubs. The first training session will be held in Auburn on Sept. 15. That will quickly be followed by workshops in Petaluma, Sacramento, Citrus Heights and other cities across the state. “It will be teaching the importance of a gardening education for kids, teaching how kids learn and how to keep the public interested in vegetables,” Bennett said. It will also cover basic speaking and presentation skills. Lucas will be the main instructor. She’ll teach trainees how to reach out to families and demonstrate how California-grown produce can reconnect people with the importance of where and how the food they eat is grown, improve health and enrich experiences at the family dining table and during family time, Bennett said. The free training includes educational materials, displays, continuing education opportunities and guidance on how to structure hands-on workshops to help people grow, prepare and taste produce in season, according to the press release. “At the conclusion, it is hoped that each volunteer will know how to garden with children and gardening activities that interest kids, as well as how to grow healthy fruits and vegetables,” Bennett said. Among the children’s activities will be visits to nurseries. Bennett is already working with several local nurseries to coordinate those trips. “For example, we’ll have the children identify seven different herbs or vegetables in the nursery and then we’ll talk about it ?— or they’ll find seven purple flowers and then we’ll talk about that,” she said. Eventually recipes and cooking with locally grown food will be added to the slate of activities. “We’ve received permission from Joanne Neft to use recipes from her two cookbooks (“The Art of Real Food” and “Placer County Real Food”),” Bennett said. Neft’s books, co-written by Laura Kenny, focus on seasonal food grown locally. Bennett hopes to have at least 25 participants for the Auburn training session. “We’re getting responses already,” she said. Training class participants who decide to become program volunteers will be required to take a follow-up online training course and have a routine criminal background check. "We're building an army," Lucas said. "We're trying to train an army who will, together - shoulder to shoulder, make a difference throughout the state." ----------- Kids Growing Strong Free leadership training workshop When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 Where: Rose Room, Auburn City Hall, 1225 Lincoln Way, Auburn For more information: Reach Gloria Young at