‘Learn to Grow’ garden project teaches better nutrition habits to 3,300 children


Serenity Terhune, of Locust Grove, waters the vegetables at Cherokee Heights Head Start in Pryor.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — More than 3,300 children in five counties are growing squash, lettuce, broccoli, corn and more as part of Cherokee Nation’s Learn to Grow garden project. The project focuses on teaching and practicing a higher level of nutrition for the children.

The project, a joint effort between the tribe’s Child Care Resource and Referral office and Healthy Nations, is in its second year. It has been expanded to 102 child care facilities in Craig, Mayes, Delaware, Nowata and Ottawa counties.

"Learn to Grow has been an inspiring and educational project for hundreds of Cherokee kids,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Generations ago, growing our own food and sustaining our environment were something we always passed on to our children. With this program, we are getting back to that way of thinking."

All child care providers in the program have received two garden beds full of soil and multiple varieties of seeds, including summer and fall vegetables. Once the vegetables are ripe, the providers use them to prepare meals for the children.

“In the first year of the Learn to Grow garden project, we were able to witness firsthand children becoming more interested in nutrition from simply growing their own vegetables,” said Project Coordinator Lisa Evans. “It was amazing to see the children being active participants in their gardens and the pride and ownership they took in them.”

Cherokee Heights Head Start teachers in Pryor use the project to teach children how to work together to care for the plants while implementing them into their nutrition curriculum. Teacher Rhonda Kingfisher said the children love to go outside to take turns watering the plants and watching their progress.

“We’ve shown the kids the process of how vegetables are grown, and they love getting to taste them when they’re ready,” Kingfisher said. “We’ve taught them the nutritional values of the vegetables and even given parents information on gardening at home.”

The child care facilities are given a certain amount of materials, but some providers have taken it upon themselves to add a personal touch to the project.

The providers at C.A.R.D. Head Start in Pryor have planted flowers in small cans and hung them around their vegetable garden. A child’s grandmother also volunteered to help plant and harvest some of the vegetables, while teaching the children new things about the plants.

Cherokee Nation’s partners in the Learn to Grow project include the OSU Extension Office, Department of Human Services Licensing, Native American Associations of Ketchum and Adair, and several other groups and individuals who have provided time and materials.

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