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ODU Partnership: Growing Future Gardeners

By Michael Tyndall

To educate children on the value of gardening and nutrition, Old Dominion University's Monarch Dining Services and Children's Learning & Research Center (CLRC) came together for a lesson that it is OK to play in the dirt as well as eat healthy.

This gardening project was created to educate children who attend the center on the importance of gardening, and to further develop the children's ability to smell, taste and feel. The students planted numerous varieties of tomatoes, lettuce and sweet peppers, as well as jalapeƱo peppers, summer zucchini, squash and corn.

Organizers say the project is a perfect match for the students in the CLRC who love to keep busy and touch and feel everything. Many of the children came into the dining hall smiling ear to ear from excitement and were eagerly waiting for instructions to begin planting.

"The children usually love anything to do with science and love all hands-on activities," said Christine Charlton, an educator at the CLRC. "The children came in every day asking, 'Is today Friday?' So, they were really eager to plant."

The project began March 23. The young gardeners planted a variety of species in ODU's new urban cultivator, at the Broderick Dining Commons, that can hold up to 800 plants. After the plants grow, they will be transported to outside garden boxes.

Janet McLaughlin, resident district manager of Monarch Dining, explained that within two and a half weeks the plants will be large enough to transplant into the gardens as well as to take home to nurture and watch.

Once the plants are ready to harvest, the children will be taught how each plant grows and looks different, as well as how to wash and cut them properly. With the extra plants, there will be a plant sale where all the proceeds will be donated to the local food bank. The sale will count as a service-learning project for the students, to teach them about leadership and working within a community.

The children will engage in many other projects in the future that will continue to educate them on the value of nutrition and food as well as working together and developing their senses.

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