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Hrishikesh Deshpande
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November 17, 2010

How to get kids to eat more vegetables? This has been the age-old question of parents and dietitians alike. But let’s face it: Adults don’t like them either. In a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control, just 26 percent of American adults ate three or more servings of vegetables a day.

Even presidents (from both political parties) are picky about their vegetables: President Obama reportedly doesn’t care for beets, and President George H.W. Bush famously declared his dislike of broccoli.

Alyssa Stewart, 14, didn’t like many vegetables either until she helped to grow them in a summer project on the near Eastside. “I tried a lot of new things last year that I didn’t think I would ever like, green onions, mushrooms -- I love mushrooms now. And onions and peppers, I didn’t think I’d like those, but I do, a lot.”

Though summer is over, its bounty is still on the minds of many people, whether they are contemplating what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner or visiting the many Food for Thought events sponsored by the Spirit & Place festival, which runs through Sunday (Nov. 14 ).

However, it was late last summer when Alyssa and a handful of other youth described all they had learned about vegetables and healthy eating at The Garden Project at East 10th United Methodist Church.

The project was built in 2009 as an effort of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. Spearheaded by crews from a Lilly Day of Service as well as a Boy Scout working on his Eagle project, the church and adjoining Children and Youth Center were soon surrounded by herbs, fruit and vegetable plants and flowers, with raised beds in an adjacent plot.

     The year of the locavore

In 2007, Camille Kingsolver and her stepfather   contributed to her mother’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a memoir of the family’s yearlong attempt to eat local food exclusively. Since then, the idea of eating locally and buying organic foods has blossomed, as more people shop local farmers’ markets and take notice of where their food is coming from.

Recently, Camille, who now lives in Asheville, N.C., responded to some questions about the challenges of local eating, and the rewards as well. While Camille found eating locally was easy when living at home, it was difficult when she attended Duke University. Going to college presented new challenges, especially when living in a dorm and having no access to kitchen facilities, she said.

In “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” Camille says she suffered like any dorm resident. “I ate lettuce and cucumbers in January just like all the other kids,” she writes. Her saving grace was asking questions and finding two campus restaurants who served local foods.

The upshot was she doubly appreciated tasty, seasonal foods. “I learned to pay attention to the natural rhythms of place and season,” she said. “When spring came I realized that fruit tastes even better when you’ve been anticipating its arrival.”

College students can eat well with a little planning, Camille said. “I’ve noticed that many college students function with the attitude that there isn’t time for eating well, whether that means skipping meals or eating really unhealthy food on the go. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of studying and activities, but if eating well is a priority you can make it happen. After my first two years in the dorms, I lived in apartments with kitchens and was able to take 20 or 30 minutes to cook something every day.”

Young people must start taking an interest in their food, she says. “We can ask where foods come from when we go to the grocery store or a restaurant. We can go to farmers’ markets and plant gardens. When our friends ask why we do these things, or why we care, we can tell them,” she writes.

Shavon Rhodes and Danielle Lovefuller are interested in healthy cooking and where their food comes from. Both are students at the Chef’s Academy, a division of Harrison College, which  offers associate degrees in culinary and pastry arts.

“I feel safer if I know where it’s from so I’m not gonna die or something from some awkward season plant,” said Danielle, 18, who is becoming a chef to help the younger generation to eat healthy.

“I go to my local farmers’ market, and I love it there.  They have anything, and it always changes ‘cause the seasons change of course,” she continued.

Shavon explained that while he appreciates whole grains and vegetables,  he believes meats are an important part of a person’s diet. “It’s part of the pyramid, so I don’t see how it could hurt anybody in the first place,” he said.

Camille eats meat, too, but she only does if it’s free-range and not raised on industrial lots.

The key is moderation, Danielle says. “I think that if you eat too much of it, then it could be bad for you, but if you eat it in moderation, then you should be perfectly fine and I don’t think you’re gonna live a shorter life if you’re just gonna chow down on a steak every once in a while.”

By Beckie Stergar, 15

The Garden Project started out as an activity for youngsters, who planted flowers and vegetables and watched them grow. Soon, older kids – who were participating in an enrichment program funded by the Summer Youth Program Fund – became involved, first helping with the toddlers, then working in the garden itself and cooking up some of its output.

The youth grew a range of vegetables and flowers, but it was the vegetables that made the biggest impact on them. “We grew some peppers. Some of them were jalapeno. We grew peas, corn. We grew some sunflowers. They did get tall,” said Gabe McDonald, 13, who liked the jalapenos.

In addition to enjoying the range of produce, the youth also enjoyed working in the garden itself, unlike some of their previous experiences.

“This is my first successful attempt at gardening. I’ve tried gardening, but it doesn’t really work when I do it,” said Alyssa.

Gabe and Vicky Vizcaya, 15, had helped in gardens planted by others, but that was more chore than pastime, they said.

“It wasn’t really that fun compared to what I’ve done here,” said Vicky. “It was more people, more laughter, and just a lot more fun than just gardening by yourself.”

The Garden Project, in its second year, provided some surprises. The youth were amazed at how tall the corn grew, and they found that they liked to work outside and cook the fruits of their labors.

In addition to getting them to try new vegetables, the project also has encouraged them to eat healthier. Now, they try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diets. “It is a new thing for me ’cause I’m just used to going to the grocery store, picking out what I want and then just going home and eating it,” Alyssa said. “I have become more conscious of what I’m eating because a lot of the times I’ll just eat junk food because it’s good and tasty and I want it.”

Some of the youth found that their old ways of eating don’t bring the pleasure they used to. “Like a few weeks ago, I went and I just ate like fast food all week. I felt so sick and I could not do it,” Vicky said. “It’s like once you eat home-cooked meals all the time and you just switch to fast foods, it makes you sick.”

Gabby Flores, 16, said the Garden Project also has made her more aware of the benefits of local foods. “It’s better and I think it’s healthier because it’s not like run through factories and stuff.”

The students are sharing their new appreciation of homegrown produce with their families. For Gabe, it’s a transition that his mother has been trying to make.

“My mom wants us to start eating healthier this year. Like we haven’t been really, but she wants to make the change,” he said.

Gabby and Vicky are sisters and are leading the charge in their family.

“Gabby and I, we’re kind of more healthy than our mom is because we’re the ones suggesting to get healthy foods, like more salads and stuff, and she drinks pop all day,” Vicky explained. “When you see your food grown, it just makes you think healthier.”

Alyssa agreed. “It has changed my perspective on food because when it’s homegrown, it’s just more fun and you just have more of you in it,” she said.

Also contributing to this report are assistant editors Bekie Stergar, 15, and Isaiah Treadwell, 15, and reporters Allison Albrecht, 12; Libby Bowling, 12; Patrick Naremore, 11; and Brooklyn Parnell, 13.

Copyright 2010 Y-Press

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