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Fruitful Experiences Are Ripe for the Picking!

During the last week of July and first week of August we hold our annual Grow-a-Row Kids Farm Days. These are extra special days at the farm when youth form the communities we serve come out to the farm to learn about agriculture and harvest and cook delicious farm-fresh produce! We are thrilled to be hosting these days for children from many different areas of the Garden State. With morning and afternoon groups each day for ten days, we are expecting to host over 750 children during our Grow-a-Row Kids Farm Days, and we have many volunteers helping to ensure that these days run smoothly. The following is an account of one of our first Kids Farm Days this year and describes how a typical session unfolds.

In the morning when the children arrive they take a seat on the blue benches wherever there is a green Grow-a-Row bag. Our volunteers pair up with a group of 5 or 6 children sitting on the benches around them, and they come up with a team name for the day. Then we introduce the team members to each other and get ready to head into the fields! This part of the day is designed to make our younger guests feel comfortable and at home in a setting that they may have never experienced before and to allow them to get to know the person who will guide them throughout their day in the fields. We find that the groups bond quickly and enjoy their time in the fields together.

Next is the farm tour! The children head out to the fields with their green bags in tow, many of the younger children holding the hands of their volunteer leaders, and we explore a few crops. First, we stop at a plant low to the ground with squiggly vines and yellow flowers. The leaves are large and soft and the children all get a chance to touch them and smell the flowers attached. As they are exploring we ask them to guess what the crop is. Guesses start bubbling up but no one is quite sure what the plant is. So, we examine further the parts of the plant. The roots are underground, the stems are more like vines on this plant, there are leaves, there are yellow flowers, and then…something at the base of the flowers. “It’s a baby pickle!” One child yells eagerly, “These are cucumber plants!” We ask the children what part of the plant they eat when they eat a cucumber, going through the list of parts again, and our younger guests are stumped. They are encouraged to keep thinking about the parts of a plant as we continue our tour and to try to figure out what part of a plant they eat that comes from a flower and has seeds inside.

After exploring zucchini, tomatoes, and our irrigation system and plastic mulch, the group heads up the path to our orchard. We stop in front of a peach tree and talk about the parts of a tree and why we thin peach trees to ensure large juicy peaches. Finally, we explain to the children that all of the peach trees were full of flowers in the spring and that each flower becomes a peach and the peach has a pit inside. What part of the plant are we eating when we eat a peach? What is a peach? “A fruit!!” In this moment each day in the orchard, we see the whole group realize that anything that comes from a flower and contains seeds is the fruit of the plant: cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers – they are all the fruit of the plant!

Now it is time to harvest! The children harvest peaches, nectarines, and the particularly delicious donut peaches. Juice drips down their chins as they try the fruit in the fields. The also get to harvest zucchini, cucumbers, and corn to take home to their families. Our farmers set aside peppers that are too fragile for our younger guests to harvest, and the peppers go into their green Grow-a-Row bags. When we walk back to the bean field, it’s harvesting galore! Children are racing to get the most beans, tasting them in the field and exclaiming that they are so sweet and better than expected! Having ownership over the produce that they harvest brings the group so much joy. We can hear whispers of “My mom is going to be so happy!” as they gaze at their bags filled to the brim with their bounty to take home and share.

We wrap up the day by cooking a sweet peach salsa together to go along with their lunch, and the group is just as excited to chop up zucchini, cucumbers, and peaches as they are to eat them with the sweet honey dressing. After lunch we say our goodbyes and help the group onto the bus. Before the group leaves we thank them for coming and ask, “What part of the plant are you taking home to your families today?” Full of smiles, the group replies, “THE FRUIT!”

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