By LeRae Haynes –
Eating dirt is good for kids. Especially when they’re playing in a garden, according to Michelle Iverson, food action co-ordinator for the Williams Lake Food Policy Council.
Having her own daughter, reminds Iverson of the benefits for children of gardening. “Ella loves the dirt and loves being in the garden,” she says. “For her first birthday I made her a cake; she had never had sugar before and refused to touch it. She walked over to ‘her’ greenhouse, pulled a tomato off the vine and ate it instead. That really surprised me.
“Ella’s favourite foods right now are Swiss chard and mushrooms; before she could crawl she loved to sit in the garden,” she said. “I let her get dirty – the dirtier the better – it all comes off with water. Let her explore: that’s how they learn.”
The Food Policy Council (FPC) is under the umbrella of the Child Development Centre and is supported by the United Way of Thompson Nicola Cariboo and Interior Health, as well as local businesses and industry over the years, she continued.
“We support the City’s official community plan for local food and agriculture,” says Iverson. “We’re working toward helping them accomplish some of those goals. We also work with the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) and First Nations communities; the big picture is a regional food system with a lot of little projects along the way.”
She adds their priority is community gardens: the Memory Garden at the bottom of Carson Drive and one at Cariboo Lodge under development.
A main focus for the community garden is the Lil Sprouts Learning Garden. With a strong background in early childhood education and years working with young children, Iverson has hands-on experience seeing children benefit from gardening experiences. “Kids are so drawn to anything in nature! They love to dig in dirt, splash in puddles, and eat what they grow,” she says. “Lil Sprouts gave me the chance to incorporate my passion and vision for kids and gardening.
“When we started the Lil Sprouts program we put out a general invitation to all daycares in the area. Exploring the Puddle Early Learning Centre got hold of me—they took it and ran with it and are amazing to work with. They have two garden beds and one greenhouse bed; they have done building and art projects in the classroom to bring to the garden.”
The kids have their own garden beds at Exploring the Puddle, but still garden with Lil Sprouts to be part of the community garden, she noted. “They bring their own seedlings and some seeds and plant their own beds. They water and weed them and harvest and eat the food they grow.”
The Child Development Centre youth programs also have a couple of garden beds. Iverson, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a specialty in early childhood, taught in inner city schools where it was not safe for kids to play outdoors, and where they developed inside gardens where the kids got to play in the dirt.
“Kids who would never touch a vegetable loved their garden,” she says. They would just walk by, pick a lettuce leaf, and eat it. It gives kids incredible pride and accomplishment: getting to show and share what they grow.”
She said having her own child has certainly brought this close to home for her. “I like seeing Ella so confident—she’s so content in the garden picking and eating plants. She doesn’t need to be entertained and doesn’t need toys: she just is.
“Ella’s like that anywhere in nature. She’d rather play with sticks and eat dirt than play with the plastic toys people have given her. We’re so fortunate to live where we do, where she can freely explore and be safe. It’s OK if she gets dirty: I know where that dirt came from.”
Gardening with kids is a way of teaching them veggies are delicious and setting them on a path of healthy eating, but Iverson says it’s more than that. “Bigger for me is a sense that they can do something for themselves, take something as small as a seed and through their care, feed their friends and family,” she said.“That’s the bigger picture.”
For more information about the Williams Lake Food Policy Council, including reserving garden and greenhouse beds, bringing a kids’ group to do a garden project, or making a donation, visit www.facebook.com/WLFPC, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone (250) 302-5010.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.