Gardens & Nature

 Gardens & Nature

City Beets grows more than produce

By Carol Siyahi Hicks

Thirteen-year-old Ava Sullivan from Fairborn recently finished her second year in Five Rivers MetroParks’ City Beets summer program, which teaches 12- to 15-year olds to grow and share food and work with others for a common purpose. Observing nature’s unpredictability, Sullivan says. “I learned that not everything goes according to plan,” she says. “That taught me to plan ahead and be prepared for anything.”

Lucille Beachdell is education coordinator for the MetroParks. She has overseen City Beets since joining MetroParks in 2007. “Food is a wonderful and universal thing,” she says. “It has a tremendous impact on our health and well-being.” Eighteen young people were selected to participate this summer. They planted and tended 40 raised planting beds, each about 4-by-10-feet in size, at the Possum Creek MetroPark farm.

Four of the students are chosen each year to be youth managers of their fellow workers on quads of 10 beds each. Sullivan was one of them. “I learned many things this year,” she says. “Leadership can be really hard—surprisingly. But it’s easy to make friends if you work together and just have fun with it. “

Over eight weeks, the youths studied organic farming, developing an understanding of the environmental effects of using non-organic pesticides and herbicides. “They gain a broader perspective on how to live in this world,” Beachdell says. “They see that growing your own food is an easy thing to do” that can change not only the food they eat, but even the world around them, she says.

They made field trips, including cooking for and serving at the House of Bread this year and for a gathering of the children’s families and friends at the end of the program. They also took their produce to the 2nd Street Market every other week, gaining practice in selling and interacting with customers and the satisfaction of earning money to help City Beets. They acquired an understanding of the food system, Beachdell says, how to pickle and preserve food, and how food is grown affects their health and the environment. 

Cora Roberts, 13, who lives near Camden in Preble County, liked spending the summer in nature—“all the plants and stuff,” she says. “Gardening is fun, and it’s nice to meet new people and hang out with them. And I learned social skills. Before I was really shy. I couldn’t talk to anyone. Now I can. And I can help my community by starting a garden here.”

Beachdell says that she loved observing the participants’ small, special moments: a boy excited about learning to make spicy kale chips; a child who took home to his grandmother a giant zucchini he had grown; the girl who asked to take chamomile from the garden to nightly make tea for her mother; kids sampling vegetables new to them; a child who made healthy, dietary changes, based upon what she gleaned from the program; a boy who was so excited about gardening that he asked if his younger brother could come and observe.

These are what tell Beachdell that City Beets is doing its job, putting these young people in intimate touch with nature, thereby enhancing their lives and, hopefully, that of their families and friends—and that of the surrounding environment.

Since 1970, Carol Siyahi Hicks has lived and worked in Greater Dayton as a journalist, national literary magazine editor, communications and marketing professional, author and, most recently, at The Dayton Foundation as the vice president of public relations and marketing. Her book, Gifts from the Garden, has a local setting and is a philosophical and joyful look at gardening, nature and life.