SAN ANTONIO, TX
Script: The San Antonio Botanical Gardens is known for showing of exotic plant life — like orchids and colorful roses. But in rear of the Botanical center more mundane plants are grown — back at the Children’s Vegetable Garden.
Every Saturday morning children like nine-year old Ben Wenzel show up with their parents in tow to work on their assigned plot of land. And recently it was time for the big harvest. Ben’s mom Laurie carries off their haul of produce in re-used plastic grocery bags. “We’ve got a couple of little turnips. We picked the little ones. We’ve got a bunch of tomatoes. Then I’ve got a bunch of spinach. We’ve got lots of green beans,” she said.
This is the first year that the Wenzels have joined the children’s garden program — and they are amazed with the volume of groceries they are able to generate on their own. “We started everything just about from seeds. Just the tomato plants and a couple more were little plants. But everything else was seeds,” Laurie said.
To participate children between the age of 8 and 13 pay a $10 fee and are assigned a section of the gardens. The Botanical Gardens provide the seeds, fertilizers and starter plants. But more importantly they also provide the guidance and expertise of master gardeners like Joan Wells.
She says she likes working with the children because they are eager to learn. “They want to learn about vegetable gardening. It’s a life long pleasure and a life long hobby that so many people have. It’s actually very healthy. Not only is it healthy but actually there is something about working around the earth — that it somehow makes people healthier,” Wells said as she pulled weeds.
The program uses only organic gardening methods — that means the only way to fight weeds is to get down on your hands and knees and pull them out. And there are no pesticides allowed. To combat pesky bugs the gardeners look to a flock of noisy featured allies — purple martins. They have nested in a big bird house in the center of the gardens.
Gina Rodriguez, the main coordinator for the Children’s Garden Program, says the children do more than just garden they also are taught the basics of botany — water and soil conservation and an greater appreciation for nature.
She said many of the kids didn’t know where their food came from. “The store. A lot of kids just think you can go to H.E.B. and that’s exactly where the vegetable come from. They don’t realize that a little radish seed, that’s so small and minute is actually that little radish. So its fun for them to see that little seed grow into the fruit that they are going to eat at the end of the season,” Rodriguez said. And like the seeds — once so small — these children are being given the proper attention and care — blossom and are cultivated into life long gardeners.
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