By Michelle Cohen
The Early Childhood Education program at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley will be starting a community garden founded on the principles of “tikkun olam and sustainability,” said Coach Terrence Baker, recreation and fitness director at the JCC.
“We’re going to show kids how to grow their own food, teach about the cycle of growing food, photosynthesis and how to eat healthy foods,” Baker said. The produce, which will include strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, green beans and tomatoes, were chosen because they can be picked and eaten right off the plant. Different vegetables were also chosen for their varying maturation times, so that the children can participate in harvests in different seasons.
The children will plant their seedlings in early March, after learning about the growing process from seeds to the final product. The seedlings will grow in JCC Executive Director Jeff Rembrandt’s sun-lit office until mid-to-late March, when they will be moved to a section in the back of the building that has been reserved for the project.
The project has been partially funded by a PA Nutrition and Physical Activity grant from the Child Care Wellness Mini-grant Project that will finance “seeds, soil, plants, tools” and everything else the garden needs, Baker said.
“We are enthused about having the kids plant and harvest their own food,” said Alexa Karakos, ECE director. She added that the curriculum behind this gardening project ties into the Discover: CATCH early childhood curriculum, which “provides a way for JCCs to promote a love of physical activity and healthy nutritional habits through their health and wellness, early childhood education, family engagement and Jewish living and learning departments,” according to the JCC Association of North America.
In addition to eating the food, they will learn about tikkun olam by donating some of the produce to the food pantry at Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley. This will “teach them that it’s a good deed to help others in need,” Baker said. The JFS Community Food Pantry relies on donations to provide emergency food assistance to individuals and families in the 18104 area, regardless of religion, as well as Jews across the Lehigh Valley.
“If you teach someone to grow their own food, it shows them about self-sustainability” and helps them understand “where food comes from and how it gets to their dinner plate,” Baker concluded. “They’ll be able to have a skill that hopefully will follow for the rest of their lives.