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Youth make healthy choices through gardening in Willmar, Minnesota

The kids of Kandiyohi County started to DIG this summer. With the help of 4-H summer intern, Ashley Warren, 15 youth, ages four to 12, got their hands dirty in a garden to table experience that changed the way they look "yucky vegetables."

Ashley with youth participants at the gardens.
Their learning started by building an above-ground garden at the Sunwood Apartment complex in Willmar, Minnesota. They filled large water tubs with recycled pop cans for easy drainage and added fresh soil that was donated by the city. Then the kids planted all types of vegetables from carrots to peppers, radishes and herbs.

DIG (dirt, insects, and gardening) lessons, led by Ashley, were incorporated into each meeting with the youth gardeners, helping them learn more about what goes into the food they eat and how food is grown.

"Before we tackled the garden, we had a 30 minute lesson (DIG) with the kids," Ashley explained. "We talked about how a single seed grows into a massive plant and how to take care of them. The kids were so interested in knowing more, they learned so much about where their food came from by the end of the summer."

After growing many varieties of vegetables over the summer, the youth got to taste each one, select their favorites and even try out recipes to share at home. Building knowledge and commitment to healthy living was a key goal of this 4-H program. Enthusiasm for nutritious foods was another.

"My favorite thing about Sunwood was when I stepped off the bus. The kids would pull me to the gardens and say 'Look, Ashley! I see peppers!' They wanted to pick them off right away even if they weren't ready yet."

4-H'er excited about her findings in the garden.
For many of the youth, this was their first time trying these particular vegetables and most were pleasantly surprised. "When we harvested radishes and they tasted them, some of the kids weren't a fan," recalled Ashley. "But others wanted to take more from the kids who didn't like them. It was great to see their excitement. We hope that excitement will spread to their families and other youth in the community."

The 4-H DIG experience was offered through a program called GrowMobile, a partnership between United Way of Willmar and Salvation Army.

Written by Madison Muir
University of Minnesota student
Kittson County 4-H alum

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