GREAT FALLS- According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they've described vegetable consumption as a crucial part of weight management. It's why the Cascade City-County Health Department has made sure children who may not have direct access to fresh produce do.
It's called the Summer Garden School. There are about 2,000 to 4,000 lbs of food here at this garden and it's all local children who are growing this produce every year.
These children are from the Cameron Center, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club, or the Great Falls Rescue Mission. This garden is a place they come to connect with food by learning how to grow fresh fruits and vegetables on their own.
Abigail Lichliter, a public health nurse with Cascade City-County Health Department said the program's goal is that these children are excited to eat what they've nurtured all summer long resulting in them eating healthy.
"If you've been in the schools, they do an awesome job of having that access to healthy food, but if kids don't want it, they don't have to always eat it and so I think that's that next step where can you get them to want to eat veggies,” said Litchliter. “I think that the hardest part is how do we translate that into the home. So we're hoping that when kids are growing the vegetables in the garden and they go into the grocery store with their parents, they want to get those veggies as well for their family."
Cascade City-County Health Department said any food these kids grow, it's donated back to their families that way it gives them immediate access to fresh food. Another way these kids have learned to bring garden to table food into their home is by the use of solar ovens and grills at the garden.
Lichliter suggested to start a garden at home with your family. It’s a great activity in general. It's a bonding experience, and parents are applying the same concept as this program is.
This garden has become more popular with agencies like the Boys and Girls Club or the Great Falls Rescue Mission who want to spend more time out here. Three years ago about 30 kids were coming out to the garden, now roughly 175 kids spend time at this garden every week.
"A girl from the Boys and Girls club told me. Charlie's in here, he's super excited,” said Lichliter. “He gets to bring in this giant zucchini and he's like hey Sonya, the executive director, look at this zucchini we grew, and he hands it off to the kitchen and then when she's in the kitchen she's chopped it up, she's prepared it, sautéed it."
Lichliter explained, then when the zucchini meal is ready, folks will ask the child hey do you want some zucchini? And if they said no, they'll remind them it's the zucchini they brought in. Now, the child gets excited, tells his friends, and before people know it everyone will eat zucchini.
Organizers said anyone can come out to the garden to enjoy it. They are always looking for volunteers to help. If families want to plant something, they don't have a program for them yet, but they're open to that idea. If people want, they can call the garden.