Sunset Park kids take a ‘Fruitful’ approach to learning

July 21, 2011 Heather Chin
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It has been just over a year since the 64th Street CommunityGarden in Sunset Park became a second classroom for over 400children aged six to 13 and the learning shows no signs of abating,thanks to the hard work of their teen mentors and funding that willtake them at through at least this next planting season.

The garden and its youth gardening and food education program,operated by the Center for Family Life, is one of 16community-based organizations that received a grant through theDepartment of Youth and Community Development’s (DYCD) annualSummer of Service initiative.

The $3,000 grant will enable the youth volunteers to plant andharvest a colorful array of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowersin their nine soil beds, while adding five more beds, a pumpkinpatch and a berry patch.

We began work on this garden because our young people wanted tolearn more about the food they eat, said John Kixmiller, theSummer of Service program coordinator at SCO/Center for FamilyLife. This year, we are expanding the project by adding a pumpkinpatch that the youth can harvest during our Halloween Festival.After two ‘fruitful’ years, it’s clear that our young people takeaway more than just [what they] grow; they learn about theenvironment and the key to a healthy and balanced diet — somethingthat they will take with them throughout the rest of theirlives.

The impact of the garden reaches further than its four gates.The youth gardeners hail from Beacon day camp programs from P.S.503/506 and P.S. 1, as well as from M.S. 136’s Lifelines programand Sunset Park High School, ensuring that they take theirexperience home and into their daily lives.

Helping this exposure is the fact that the kids get to bringsome of what they grow – tomatoes, cucumbers, beans – home to theirparents, and are encouraged to pick and keep their favoriteflowers, such as vibrant yellow sunflowers and sunset orangemarigolds. This gives them a sense of pride, investment andownership over their work and community.

On August 12, this community will be on enthusiastic display atthe Fresh Food Festival, where all of the day camps, schools andother area organizations will be invited to celebrate the bloominggarden plus the end of the summer with grilled and barbecued food,vegetable and plant giveaways, planting projects, sports and otherseed and book-related games.

Said DYCD Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav, Summer of Service givesour young people the chance to identify a problem in theircommunity and to work toward a solution. It’s a program that tapsinto one of the most powerful sources of positive change in ourcity – our youth.

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