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Student garden in Norwich plants good ideas about nutrition, healthy eating

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published July 05. 2013 4:00AM   Updated July 05. 2013 3:29PM

Norwich - Want to entice kids to eat fruits and vegetables?

Get them to plant a garden.

The Bridges after school program and the school lunch program are using several grants aimed at improving children's nutrition and combating obesity to create a 45-by-100-foot vegetable and fruit garden behind Kelly Middle School. About 30 elementary and middle school students have installed raised beds, planted seeds, weeded and are now eating their results.

Students on Tuesday picked and carefully sliced a few bright red radishes.

"Spicy!" several of them responded, some waving a hand in front of their mouths as if to cool off their tongues.

Jaylyn Watson, 8, who is visiting Norwich for the summer from her home in Georgia, was coaxed to try a celery leaf. She scowled immediately, saying it was too strong. Her friend, Ariana Coons, 10, of Norwich offered a solution.

"Try a broccoli flower," she said. "That helps."

It did. She reached for more broccoli.

Perhaps surprisingly to the teachers and other adults helping with the garden Tuesday, broccoli was a favorite of many students, to the point where most of the tiny flowers at the top of the plants had been picked off and eaten. Students said they can't wait to make coleslaw out of the perfectly shaped red and green cabbages.

Other students hunted in the small strawberry patch for possible hidden treasurers. But the strawberries were all gone. Arianna Howard, 12, a student at Teachers' Memorial Middle School, now is looking forward to the day when the tiny watermelon sprouts bear large round fruit.

Adjacent to the watermelon beds, several students worked with shovels to create new earthen hills to plant cucumbers.

Ross Anderson, coordinator of the school system's Extended Learning program that includes Bridges after school programs, said new raised beds on tables are planned for one corner of the garden. That would allow students in wheelchairs to work in the garden.

The garden sprouted this spring from three main grants and several smaller grants, Anderson said. Thrive4Life awarded the project $25,000 to create a pilot flagship garden to teach students how to garden and to introduce the produce into the schools' nutrition plan. The state Department of Education provided a three-year $95,000 per year grant, and 4-H provided $40,000 through a Wal-Mart Foundation grant.

Other funding came from the online fundraising website Indiegogo and from the Whole Kids Foundation.

Norwich Public Utilities excavated and graded the site at no charge. The funding paid for the 7-foot deer fence, the cedar raised beds, 65 cubic yards of rich soil from Sentinel Farm in Franklin and the crushed stone pathways. The state funding pays the salary of Zoe Madden, director of coordinated school health.

Madden is the director of the garden project and works in all 10 Norwich schools with programs on healthier eating. Six Norwich schools now have gardens, with the new Kelly Middle School garden the largest, she said.

Madden has plans for the crops that will come out of the Kelly garden. Most will be sent home with the students who worked on the garden. Some will be used in after-school healthy cooking and taste-testing programs. Students in the Bridges summer program already have made chili, ranch dressing and pesto from their vegetables and herbs.

If there is an abundance of some crops, they will be given to school cafeterias or will be donated to local food pantries.

c.bessette@theday.com

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