LAFAYETE, La. (AP) — More than a dozen students picked and toted vegetables from a garden adjacent to Truman Montessori School, beaming with pride at the color and size of their harvest.
They are participants of the Seed to Table program, which was designed to bring fresh produce to youth and the community.
"Across the nation there are urban farms popping up, working with youth specifically to increase food access (and) increase fruit and vegetable consumption," said Emily Neustrom, program coordinator. "This is the first one of this kind in Lafayette that is really focusing on the youth and teaching horticulture and gardening and also cooking and (the) canning and processing."
The Healthy Living Club is sponsored by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. It includes more than 20 local organizations working to promote a healthier Lafayette.
Neustrom said the group planted seeds on April 16 and began harvesting in June.
"Now we're harvesting hundreds of pounds of cucumbers, squash, zucchini, okra, corn — it's all coming in," said Neustrom. "(The children) love it.
"They love cooking. They're really excited to process the vegetables and try them and eatthem, so they're slowly exploring more with consuming and eating the vegetables."
Kiana Sion, 9, said she loves how the squash and zucchini tasted. She also admired the garden.
"I think the garden is pretty big and beautiful," she said.
Braylon Willis, 13, said he appreciated the garden for a much deeper reason.
"It's teaching us about different types of vegetables, and it's keeping us out of the streets where we don't get into trouble," he said.
Delilah Durand, 11, said she's learned the best way to pick okra and corn.
"I've learned that some vegetables you can't just pull off. You (have) to twist some of them off," she said.
Theresa Guidry, a volunteer and member of the Lafayette 1998 Parish Master Gardeners' class, said she's learning from the children as well.
"It's really my privilege and honor to be with these kids," she said. "They're very, very intelligent, and hopefully, we're both learning something."
Kaiser Sion, 11, said watching the vegetables grow was similar to watching a baby grow up.
"It taught us about how we grow the plants instead of just buying them from stores and things," Kaiser said.
The program was open to children ages 9 through 12, who had to apply, and runs through July. Neustrom said they hope to extend it to Truman pre-K students during the school year.
Besides harvesting more than 150 pounds of zucchini and squash, the children have had a weed expert speak to them, a chef prepare some of their harvest, and they've pickled cucumbers.
Lionel Lyles, who also works with Seed to Table, said they will give excess produce to the surrounding Truman community because they are in a food desert. This means "there is not a full-fledged grocery story within a half a mile of the average resident's home."
"The ultimate goal for the children is they can understand that life is not instant gratification, but there's a gestation period," Lyles said. "Cucumbers don't just fall out of the sky; they have to come from a seed.
"They are learning that it takes time in order to produce something creative in their own personal lives."
Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com