Joint initiative aimed at increasing nutrition awareness, quality
BY NATE SMELLE
In effort to educate the next generation about the origins of their food, the Pelham Farmers’ Market hosted its Kids Can Grow program last Thursday evening. The educational program is part of a larger provincial initiative called the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, where 46 communities – including Pelham – were chosen to participate. In collaboration with staff from the Town’s Recreation, Culture and Wellness Department, volunteers from the Farmers’ Market set up a tent where children could drop by to learn how to grow their own healthy food.
“It’s all about getting them in touch with the food they eat,” said chair of the Pelham Farmers’ Market, Margot Andrews-Peekstock.
“We explain to them how farmers have plants like these that grow over the summer and then bears fruit. It lets them get their hands dirty. They can watch the flowers turn into a strawberry and see the basil grow tall. It gives them a good start on gardening and appreciating where their food comes from.”
Pointing out that some kids don’t even go grocery shopping with their parents, Andrews-Peekstock said that food education is needed now more than ever. While the program is intended for kids, she said many adults could benefit from learning more about how they can improve their access healthy food.
“There is a misperception that eating healthy is more expensive,” said Andrews-Peekstock.
“You can get a package of instant mashed potatoes for $2.59, or you can get a bag of potatoes and make baked potatoes and potato soup and all sorts of other things. The whole perception that processed food is cheaper, at the end of the day isn’t necessarily the case, because you can do a lot with a butternut squash as far as healthy food goes. Especially compared to, say, a frozen pizza.”
Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit may prevent certain types of cancer, is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, healthy weights and lower risk of obesity.
In fact, the Canada Food Guide recommends that children get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. As part of the Province’s Healthy Kids Community Challenge Niagara initiative, the Kids Can Grow program encourages children and families to eat healthier by making vegetables and fruits a regular part of their diet. Participating children were each given a planter and three plants – one tomato plant, one basil and one strawberry – to help them hone their gardening skills.
“I love fruits and vegetables,” said eight-year-old Genestah P. Banga, as she carefully packed the soil around the plants in her container.
“I am going to find a whole bunch of worms and put them in here, because worms are really good for the plants. I have a whole whack of worms at home that I found in our garden and on the ground. When I’m done I’m going to give my planter to my grandma because she loves plants.”
“I’m going to make my Mom a strawberry pie,” said another four-year-old farmer-in-training, Breiah Turle, as she held up her planter.
As the Administrative Assistant for the Town’s Recreation, Culture and Wellness Department, Rachel Ahle spent the late afternoon and early evening teaching kids how to plant and grow their own fruits and vegetables. Over the next nine months, she said the Eating Games hosted by the Town will continue to give local children and their families an opportunity to learn how to grow, produce and prepare healthy meals.
Providing a bit of extra incentive for participants, Ahle said each month children will be given a new task to check off on their Kids Can Grow passport. Once they have completed all the challenges on their passport, she said the children qualify for a chance to win an array of fun prizes.
“In July, we are actually going to build a bike blender,” she said. “It’s basically a bike-powered blender, that you peddle to spin the blade. People will be able to pick up a smoothie package at the Farmers Market and then take it over to the Supper Market, where they can blend their own smoothie. This will be going on every Thursday in July.”
For more information on the Healthy Kids Community Challenge Niagara visit: www.healthykidsniagara.ca.