Learn to Grow garden project reaches 3,000 children


Project organizers stand with teachers and students of Cowboy Junction daycare in Vinita. L to R: Michelle Markham, director of Cowboy Junction; Brandi Darnell;  Kathy Enyart, Oklahoma State Extension Ottawa County; Margie Burkhart, Cherokee Nation Healthy Nations; Robyn Malone, D.H.S. Child Care Licensing; Cora Flute, Cherokee Nation Healthy Nations; Margaret Manchel, Cherokee Nation Child Care Licensing; Tari Lee, Oklahoma State Extension Craig County; Lisa Evans, Cherokee Nation Child Care Resource and Referral; Cheryl Barton, Northeast Oklahoma Community Action; Dee Procter, Native American Association of Adair; Jerry Taylor, Native American Association of Ketchum; Kristi Seaton and Courtney Dawes, Cowboy Junction.

VINITA, Okla. —As many as 3,000 children in five counties will soon grow their own carrots, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes after the Cherokee Nation provided funds to help them plant vegetable gardens.

The tribe’s Child Care Resource and Referral office and Healthy Nations department teamed up and, using a $9,000 grant and $1,800 worth of materials, started the “Learn to Grow” gardening project. The gardens were planted recently in 79 child care facilities in Mayes, Delaware, Ottawa, Craig and Nowata counties, with no exclusivity to Cherokee child care providers.

“The project will allow the children the opportunity to eat fresh, homegrown vegetables they grew in their own garden,” Child Care Resource and Referral Specialist Lisa Evans said. “The Learn to Grow project will increase knowledge of nutrition and incorporate healthy recipes and cooking experiences for the children and their families. In turn, we hope to see an increase in healthier lifestyles all around.”

Each child care facility was provided with a raised garden bed filled with soil, a smaller plastic mineral tub, tomato cages, slicing tomato and cherry tomato plants, cucumber and squash plants, and lettuce, spinach and radish seeds. Additional materials, such as shovels and agricultural information, was also provided free of charge to the providers. Children will harvest their veggies this summer for snacks, and officials will meet in the fall to share best practices.

“This project is important because it serves several key interests of the Cherokee people,” said Tribal Council member Chuck Hoskin Jr., of Vinita, who helped secure additional funding. “It encourages kids to think about where their food comes from and to understand health foods.  It educates kids about gardening and growing traditional plants, which will help them understand traditional ways.  I hope we support this type of project every year.”

The child care providers are required to keep an activity log to show their involvement.

Kym Henry, a provider who runs a small child care facility out of her home in Vinita, takes a more scientific and creative approach with her activity log.

Henry keeps record of each day’s temperatures, the height of each plant, how much water is given and more to spark children’s interest. She also takes photos and creates special graphics and combines everything into a ‘Let it Grow’ scrapbook.

“I really think the project is great, and the kids are having a lot of fun playing in the garden,” Henry said. “I’m ready to see how much more they will eat and try new things when we get to pick the vegetables.”

Several organizations also participated. They include OSU Extension offices, Native American Association, Cherokee Nation Child Care Licensing, Northeast Community Action, DHS Child Care Licensing, Cherokee Nation employees and Tribal Council.

The following are participating child care facilities with “Learn to Grow’ gardens:

Delaware County

Home Providers

  • Kathy Stick, Jay
  • Lisa Beck, Jay
  • Teri Carnes, Kansas
  • Melanie Stilley, Kansas
  • Susan Winfrey, Grove
  • Kelly Claggett, Grove
  • Annie Wolf, Colcord
  • Tonia Taylor, Rose

Child Care Facilities

  • Cherokee Nation Head Start, Jay
  • The Learning Center, Jay
  • Jay Head Start and Early Learning Center, Jay
  • Wee Tot, Jay
  • Bright Beginnings, Grove
  • Heritage Child Care, Grove
  • Kids R First, Grove
  • Kids Company, Grove
  • Wee Little Lambs, Grove
  • Wanda’s Day Care, Grove
  • New Life CDC, Colcord

Ottawa County

Home Providers

  • Deborah Ware, Afton
  • Lora Dugan, Afton
  • Cari Burrow, Afton
  • Pam McDonald, Commerce
  • Melissa Huffman, Commerce
  • Amanda York, Miami
  • Terry Thorp, Miami
  • Tina McClintic, Miami
  • Robin Freeman, Quapaw

Child Care Facilities

  • Jelly Beans, Commerce
  • Joyful Learning Center, Miami
  • Wee Ones, Miami
  • Wee Ones Clubhouse, Miami
  • Downstream, Quapaw

Craig County

Home Providers

  • Tina Widower, Vinita
  • Rhonda Bowers, Vinita
  • Donna White, Vinita
  • Linda Hood, Vinita
  • Sharon Brown, Vinita
  • Amy Wills, Vinita
  • Jerri Forrest, Vinita
  • Kym Henry, Vinita
  • Kevin Williams, Vinita
  • Kim Smith, Vinita
  • Judy Freeman, Vinita

Child Care Facilities

  • Creative Beginnings, Vinita
  • Little Rascals, Vinita
  • Happiness, Vinita
  • Cowboy Junction, Vinita
  • Christian Child Care, Vinita
  • Christian Child Care II, Vinita
  • Gates Learning Center, Welch

Mayes County

Home Providers

  • Jamie Kemp, Adair
  • Miranda Phillippe, Adair
  • Beverly Carpenter, Afton (Ketchum)
  • Sherry White, Chouteau
  • Lanie Allen, Vinita (Langley)
  • Jan Fisher, Langley
  • Faye Arneecher, Locust Grove
  • Dawn Livingston, Locust Grove
  • Brenda Frew, Pryor
  • Sheryl Shearer, Pryor
  • Jeana Whiteis, Pryor
  • Rosetta Layton, Salina
  • Regina Ingram, Salina  

Child Care Facilities

  • Little Red School House, Adair
  • Little by Little, Chouteau
  • Tot Rock Academy, Locust Grove
  • Time to Grow, Pryor
  • Greenbrier, Pryor
  • Pryor First Baptist Church, Pryor
  • Cherokee Nation Head Start, Pryor
  • Pryor South Head Start, Pryor
  • Card Head Start, Pryor
  • Salina Early Learning Academy, Salina

Nowata County

Home Providers   

  • Deborah Colonder, South Coffeyville
  • Rebecca’s Daycare, South Coffeyville

Child Care Facilities

  • A-Z Learning Center, Nowata
  • Kids Kountry Learning Center, Nowata

Cherokee Nation News Release
Julie Hubbard - 918-207-3896
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