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In the Garden: Growing Your Own Food Crops

Tina talks to Jeff Clarke, the Garden Supervisor at the Camden Children’s Garden about teaching kids how to grow their own food.

The demand for locally grown organic produce continues to be a strong trend in gardening, resulting in urban and community gardens popping in cities all across America.

Some gardens can be very elaborate, given the space, or they can be humble backyard plots growing a few edible plants. The idea of educating inner city children and adults to make better food choices and know where their food comes from will be passed on to future generations.

This is the philosophy behind the Camden Children’s Garden. It began with a group of volunteers from the Camden City Community Garden Club. Their primary objective, when they opened in 1999, was to have a place for children to run, jump, play and touch the plants without any rules. The idea allows children to explore at their own pace and learn about nature hoping to spark their interest in horticulture.

The Picnic Garden is a great example of how important it is for them to see how their food is grown. It immediately caught my eye once I entered the gardens. It is a garden filled with oversized tea cups and saucers with giant sculptures of ants. They also have a giant fork ready to dig in to the juicy tomatoes and other edible plants. Jeff Clarke of Camden Children’s Garden is Garden Supervisor tells me “Children today don’t see food in its natural state. They see food chopped up in plastic bags at the supermarket ready to be put in the microwave.” The gardens are a way for kids to see food growing. Many have never seen tomatoes, squash and eggplant actually growing on the vine or plant.

This concept appears to be working. Children come from all over the Camden area to plant the gardens with Clarke. In the following weeks they nurture and care for the plants until they are ready to harvest. They have an opportunity to grow plants in an outdoor space, which many children may not have growing up in the city. Jeff Clarke tells me some of the best experiences are watching the children pick and taste the tomatoes. Many have never tasted anything like it before. Jeff recalls one child saying, “that sure doesn’t taste like the tomato on my hoagie.” “Nope it sure doesn’t, “ Jeff replied.

In a garden filled with tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant, they can learn about the various types of tomatoes heirloom and hybrid and how to identify them. Heirlooms are the varieties passed down through time. They tend to be more acidic than sweet like some of the new hybrid varieties. They also have a larger leaf much like a potato instead of a small cut leaf pattern. The garden also includes a mini orchard with peach and apple trees with a garden for herbs as well. The hope is the knowledge they gain today will last them a lifetime and later past down to future generations tomorrow with the emphasis on locally grown food.