Halo Chapman and Jacorey James, both 6, give a thumbs up to eating vegetables. Halo and Jacorey are learning about healthy eating from Clemson Greenville County 4-H agent Patricia Whitener by taking part in growing a garden at the Freetown Community Center.

Halo Chapman and Jacorey James, both 6, give a thumbs up to eating vegetables. Halo and Jacorey are learning about healthy eating from Clemson Greenville County 4-H agent Patricia Whitener by taking part in growing a garden at the Freetown Community Center.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

GREENVILLE — Quintavious Jones knows he should eat his vegetables and now that he has a part in growing vegetables to eat, Quintavious said he may eat more.

“I sometimes eat my vegetables,” said Quintavious, 7. “But it’s more fun growing them. I like to dig in the dirt and plant the seeds.”

Quintavious is one among a group of children at the Freetown Community Center who are growing a vegetable garden with the help of Patricia Whitener, a Clemson Extension Service 4-H agent in Greenville County. Whitener said the gardening project is part of the farm-to-school initiative funded by Boeing.

“This initiative promotes healthy eating and living habits,” Whitener said. “What we are doing is we are addressing the issues that are associated with childhood obesity and urban food deserts, or lack of fresh food within driving distance. Traditionally, urban areas have not had a lot of gardening done in them. We are teaching youth about what foods to eat and we are teaching them how they can grow these foods so that they can have their own fresh produce.”

Whitener said the project also promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning through the experiential process of starting and maintaining a garden.

“More than dealing with childhood obesity and the lack of fresh foods, we are getting youth reconnected with nature,” Whitener said. “Not only are we learning about food and nutrition, we are learning about parts of a plant, we’re learning about soil science, we’re learning about the water cycle, we’re learning about entomology. Connecting children back with the earth, with the soil, is something Clemson Extension has been doing for more than 100 years. For some of the youth, they are the first generation that’s had anything to do with growing a garden and this is a wonderful experience for all involved.”

The Freetown Community Center garden is a collaborative effort between several organizations including Greenville County 4-H; Master Gardeners; the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District; and Greenville County Parks, Recreation and Tourism; as well as Boeing.

“We have had tremendous support from everyone involved,” Whitener said. “This project started as a small community garden, but is has snowballed to include others outside of the community.”

Examples of how others participate in the garden include Master Gardeners Polly Powell and Tibia Johns, who help the youth with maintenance and general care of the garden. Members of the Soil and Water Conservation District have been busy giving lessons that explain how pollutants get in the ecosystem and why humans can’t eat vegetables grown on polluted sites. Soil and Water Conservation District staff also taught the youth about the water cycle and soil conservation.

Staff with the Greenville County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department have engaged the youth in discussions about insects that can be found in gardens, the different types of weeds that can be found growing in gardens, as well as the nutrition values of vegetables and how working in a garden can be ideal exercise for people.

Rhondi Hackett of the Greenville County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department said his involvement with this project has been a rewarding experience.

“We are proud to help with this program,” Hackett said. “A lot of young people don’t know about nature or where their food comes from. They know more about technology than they do about nature. This program is great. It teaches youth about where their food originated and how to grow their own fruits and vegetables.”

Hackett continued by saying, “A lot young people think their fruits and vegetables come from the stores where they were bought. They don’t know where the produce in the store comes from. This program puts them in touch with nature and lets them know where their food originates.”

April Jackson, manager, and Rhiana Barrero, assistant manager, said the gardening program has been an asset to the youth attending the center.

“In allowing our afterschool programs to be exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables, we aspire to teach children about healthy lifestyles, as well as educate them about our natural world,” Jackson said. “I personally think that gardening inspires the children’s curiosity. The exploration that gardening provides is a great way for children to connect to their environment. The experiences, opportunities and learning it can provide are insurmountable.”

Barrero said partnerships such as this one with Clemson Extension agents help the Community Center help people living in the community.

“Partnerships have proven to be some of our best resources,” Barrero said. “The same applies to Clemson Extension. Despite our eagerness to involve gardening in our programs, we are just as new to gardening as some of these students. Having Patricia, her group of volunteers and master gardeners and Aerin Brownlee, Greenville County Parks and Rec Program coordinator for Garden Education, has been enormous in our efforts to develop a gardening program that works for us.  The staff with the Clemson Extension program and Aerin have been so valuable in allowing us to take our vision of the Community Garden and put it to action. Without them and their hard work, none of this would be possible.”

Jackson said programs provided by the Clemson Extension Service, such as the Community Garden, “greatly benefit everyone” living in South Carolina.

“The impact that they are making on this community is overwhelming,” Jackson said. “Patricia and her staff are so knowledgable and eager to help in any way possible. We look forward to working with them every month and for years to come.”

The Freetown Community Center garden is part of a program developed by Clemson Extension agents Amy Dabbs, Jennifer Schlette and Zack Snipes called “School Gardening for South Carolina Educators.” This program is part of the farm-to-school initiative that began in 2013 after a grant was received from Boeing. The initiative also includes programs to teach school nutrition staff and families how to prepare healthy meals and provides support for beginning farmers through apprenticeship, incubation and land-matching programs.

Click here for more information on the program.

School gardens are a type of community garden. Other types include church gardens, neighborhood community gardens, entrepreneurial/job training market gardens, communal gardens, food pantry gardens and therapy gardens. More information about community gardens can be found in Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Starting a Community Garden.