Hey, Kids: How Does Your Garden Grow?

It's summer vacation - hot and sunny.  Do you have the kids outside in the dirt, digging and weeding?  Tending to a garden can be a real educational experience for a child, as he learns about pride in ownership and the wonders of the Earth.

Just ask Christopher Prokop, a New Haven dad who helped launch the Davenport Children's Garden in the Hill neighborhood (corner of Davenport and Ward) twelve years ago.

"There's the whole experience of watching seeds grow and being able to experience how your efforts produce some amazing things," says Prokop, an employee of Yale-New Haven Hospital.  Often, he would see a group of children, involved in a nearby after-school program.  "The kids came-up with the idea.  They said, 'Why don't we do something with that vacant lot across the street.  It's been vacant forever,'" he explains, noting that the New Haven Land Trust got involved, taking over the lease for the property.  "It was a mess.  We started weeding...we really mobilized the troops.  We'd be out there 2, 3 afternoons after school."  Kids were motivated and parents joined-in the effort, even hand-pouring concrete for a sidewalk, made the old-fashioned way.  "It got everybody working and moving.  The kids were the muscle behind it.  They were all digging the dirt, moving the dirt....it was a big operation," remembers Prokop.  As flowers and vegetables grew, the kids learned about healthy, natural foods - even engaging in "taste tests" of herbs and mint leaves.

Over the years, the neighborhood changed.  Some families left but the garden remains, a mature, beautiful piece of nature in the city, filled with chamomile, hyacinth, tulips and lilies.  Now, kids often get involved through the United Way of Greater New Haven, participating in yearly maintenance of the land.

But, Prokop still sees kids - now young adults in their early 20s - who remember creating the garden, telling him it helped them feel safe.  "One girl told me that it kept her alive, in a sense, because she didn't get caught up in a lot of the temptations and gang activity," he says.  "There was definitely a team spirit around working together from the small kids to the big kids." 

No doubt, gardening helps children - our future - care about the environment.  "It got them in touch with getting dirty," says Prokop.  "They could see that their efforts produced something beautiful."

Here are some tips - from the Art of Simple - for starting your own garden with the kids!





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