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IU program helping kids gain gardening experience

Mar. 25, 2015

Every year, Theresa Simpson teaches a section about the lifecycle of plants.

With the help of Hilltop Garden and Nature Center -- an IU initiative that provides educational and recreational resources for youth gardening -- Simpson can provide a hands-on experience to her young students.

Terri Vicenzi makes a seed kit

Hilltop Garden and Nature Center volunteer Terri Vicenzi, who is training to be a master gardener, puts soil in bags for the Seed Start Kits. | Photo By Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications

“It allows me to teach them about plants from start to finish,” said Simpson, a first-grade teacher for the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. “I can show them it’s a living thing and what does it mean. It makes it more personal when it's something they start from a little seed.”

Hilltop’s Seed Start Kit Program began in 2008 as a way to provide children an experience in gardening. 

Volunteers assemble kits that include five seeds -- tomato, pepper, lettuce, pea and flower -- five row markers, a clear plastic clamshell container, a gallon zip-lock bag full of potting soil and planting instructions. Those kits are then delivered to area schools free of charge. 

Through the kits, students are able to learn about not only gardening but science, nutrition and math.

“I think this program is so amazing because of the many volunteers of all ages that get involved and care about this program,” Woodard said. “Even the IU students are learning and understanding the importance of connecting young children with their food, helping them understand how it is grown and hopefully be more likely to eat the vegetables they grow. Additionally, we want students to connect with nature and understand that their food is grown from the earth and we want to protect it.”

Since the program's inception, volunteers from Hilltop, Bloomington High School South's work-study program, Harmony eighth-grade, IU student service learners and the Bloomington community have assembled more than 5,000 seed kits that were delivered to elementary school classrooms in Monroe, Lawrence, Greene and Owen counties. 

Seed starter kit

The seed starter kids include five seeds (tomato, pepper, lettuce, pea and flower), five row markers, a clear plastic clamshell container, a gallon zip-lock bag full of potting soil and planting instructions. | Photo By Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications

Last year alone, the project delivered 1,100 kits to 53 classrooms in 20 schools. Orders for this year’s project end this month. So far, more than 1,000 kits have been ordered for 70 classrooms. 

The program is funded through a grant from the Bloomington Garden Club, and Cook Inc. donates the plastic trays that make up the kits.

“Because the plastic trays are donated, and we have volunteer labor to assemble the kits and another volunteer who donates his time and gas to deliver the kits to the classroom for free, we are able to make each kit for about $1,” Woodard said.

That collaborative effort allows young students like those in Simpson’s class an opportunity they might not receive otherwise. 

“Some students in our classrooms may never experience what it’s like to take a care of a plant and then have it grow into something they can eat, which is really beneficial because they can see where their food comes from,” Simpson said. “Even if I introduce it to one student a year, that’s a student that would never have known about how to take care of (a plant).”

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