On a warm, sunny day in July, 10 young kids run up the hill at the Beloit Residential Treatment Center in Ames, eager to reach a large garden plot nearby.
The plot is the Beloit Learning Garden, a space where each of the kids learn skills like planting and harvesting healthy foods throughout the growing season.
Each week, boys and girls on the campus learn new nutrition facts and work with volunteer gardeners from the community.
On this particular day, the kids gather around Rachel, a volunteer dietetics student from Iowa State University, and she teaches them about Vitamin C.
The Learning Garden started as a collaboration among LSI, Bethesda Lutheran Church, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, USDA’s National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment, and the Story County Master Gardeners Association. Volunteers from each organization have helped manage the garden over the years, and someone always teaches a lesson to the kids before each afternoon of gardening.
“I love seeing how excited the kids get about the vegetables and picking them. Any time the kids are around healthy food, it’s really great,” Rachel says.
Kyanni, 12, has been working in the garden for a month, and she’s already learned plenty of new lessons about farming. When she’s in the garden, she’s hard at work finding her favorite vegetable—broccoli—or helping the younger kids find good foods to pick and send back to Beloit’s kitchen.
Kids like Paul have found a passion for farming and a love of vegetables thanks to the garden and its volunteers.
Paul, 12, has been working in the garden throughout the year, and he loves learning about nature and making new food every week. His favorite vegetable is zucchini, which he now gets to grow in the garden.
When he grows up, Paul wants to be a farmer and plant “a whole bunch of stuff” for his family.
That’s the beauty of the garden. For Rachel, the joy of volunteering comes from watching each child learn something and find a love for farming every day.
“A lot of kids don’t understand the process of agriculture,” she says. “So to have [the garden] at their fingertips – it’s a great opportunity for them to learn.”