Children's Museum welcomes new Farmers Market exhibit

Sofia Powers, right, 6 of Mystic pretends to plant flowers in a garden while playing with her sister Emma, left, 4, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at the new Niantic Farmers Market Garden exhibit at The Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut.  The exhibit, designed to help children understand where food comes from, was sponsored by Niantic Main Street and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture through the Community Investment Act. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Sofia Powers, right, 6 of Mystic pretends to plant flowers in a garden while playing with her sister Emma, left, 4, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at the new Niantic Farmers Market Garden exhibit at The Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut. The exhibit, designed to help children understand where food comes from, was sponsored by Niantic Main Street and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture through the Community Investment Act. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

East Lyme — An array of brightly colored vegetables is growing in a garden at the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut in downtown Niantic.

The tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and lettuce heads are not the kind to eat but the plush variety — all with smiling faces — designed for children to play at gardening and learn where their food grows.

Niantic Main Street, a nonprofit organization, is sponsoring the "Niantic Farmers Market Garden" exhibit with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture through the Community Investment Act, according to a news release.

Members of Niantic Main Street and the community gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the exhibit on Tuesday during National Farmers Market Week. During the event, Niantic Main Street, which hosts a weekly farmers market downtown, presented the museum with a giant-sized $5,000 check.

Holly Cheeseman, executive director of the children's museum, said the new permanent exhibit is in keeping with the museum's focus on imaginative play and fits in with its other programs, such as "Seed to Plant," which teaches children about the growing process for plants.

Children visiting the garden exhibit can "pick" the plush vegetables from the beds and place them into vegetable crates, and then bring them over to the nearby marketplace exhibit.

"The kids learn that their food doesn't just start at the grocery store," said Rita Rivera, the museum's marketing and graphics coordinator. "It grows in the ground."

In the exhibit, children also can find plush bunnies and a play chicken coop with toy eggs, watering cans and gardening tools, gardening aprons and an assortment of books, from "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle to "Planting a Rainbow" by Lois Ehlert. Children also can attach magnetic vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, onto a surface decorated with vines.

Dan Walsh, president of Niantic Main Street, an organization whose mission is "to help promote and implement downtown revitalization efforts" in Niantic and Flanders, said that about one-third of first-time visitors to downtown Niantic are coming to visit the Children's Museum, so it's only the right thing to do to sponsor an exhibit at the museum.

Edie Twining, an Old Lyme artist, was the designer and he was assisted by museum educator Jennifer Dums and maintenance supervisor James Gillespie, according to the release. 

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, John Schweizer, president of the museum's board of trustees and a member of Niantic Main Street, said he couldn't be happier for everything that Niantic Main Street has done, not only for the community, but for the museum, because it's part of the community. He said together they've worked really hard to make Niantic, as well as East Lyme, "a real special place."

East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said Niantic has been thriving thanks to the hard work of Niantic Main Street. He also said the community is lucky to have the children's museum downtown.

"It makes our downtown special," he said, along with the eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, dance studio, boardwalk and the new park.

He said to witness Niantic Main Street becoming part of the children's museum is "a dream come true."

Cheeseman — who is also state representative for the 37th District towns of East Lyme and Salem — thanked Niantic Main Street and the museum sponsors that attended the ceremony. 

"We couldn’t succeed without the help of people like you, and every day we really work hard to give children and families a fun, quality, learning experience here, and this is just one more piece of the pie as we go forward," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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