Howard University garden project gives D.C. kids a chance to grow good food

(Maddie Meyer/ THE WASHINGTON POST ) - Kennedy Harrison, 7, and her brother Anthony, 11, plant a garden in their D.C. backyard. The Harrisons received one of 50 gardens given away by Howard University to promote healthy eating.

(Maddie Meyer/ THE WASHINGTON POST ) - Kennedy Harrison, 7, and her brother Anthony, 11, plant a garden in their D.C. backyard. The Harrisons received one of 50 gardens given away by Howard University to promote healthy eating.

Seven-year-old Kennedy Harrison knows just what she’s going to do with the produce from her new backyard garden.

Stir up salsa with the tomatoes.

Brew tea with the mint leaves.

And chop up the cucumbers — for a spa day.

But, the first grader added, thinking quickly of her 11-year-old brother, Anthony, “no boys allowed.”

The tomato, mint and cucumber plants arrived at the Harrison household Saturday morning, courtesy of My Garden Project, a program sponsored by Howard University Hospital and the Howard University College of Medicine.

The project began last year, with about a dozen Washington families participating. This year, it’s grown to 50.

Howard students and staff members helped the children prepare and plant small gardens over the past week — the Harrison home in Northwest Washington was the first stop Saturday morning— and they promised to visit later in the summer to check on the gardens’ progress. Each household gets lumber to fence in the garden, a few plants, soil, a sign with the kids’ names, gardening advice and a recipe for a tomato and cucumber salad.

The goal is to promote sustainability and healthy eating. And with childhood obesity on the rise in the United States, it’s important to show children where vegetables come from, said Mark Johnson, dean of Howard’s medical school. “If people eat right, they can maintain their health and prevent deleterious effects,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was “intimately involved” in his grandmother’s garden as a child, particularly with the production of her strawberry-rhubarb pie.

My Garden Project connects children with sustainability and the environment “in a way that we hope will be lasting,” said Brandon Wallace, an Environmental Protection Agency contractor who facilitates an EPA partnership with Howard.

For Alex and Chlöe McCants, 5 and2, respectively, the garden is a new way to enjoy the outdoors, said their mother, Khalilah McCants of Northwest Washington, after an afternoon of planting.

The patch will teach Alex and Chlöe not only about weeding and watering but also about responsibility, cause and effect, and science, McCants said.

“Eating the fruits of their labor is exciting for them,” she said, adding that her children are most enthusiastic about the tomatoes.

The gardeners are tasked with keeping a diary — where they’ll record insect invasions and plant growth — in a composition notebook.

Back at the Harrison house, Anthony, dubbed “Mr. Scientist” by his family, is up to the challenge — after a brief scuffle with his sister over who will be in charge of the notebook.

In Kimberly Harrison’s gardens — mom’s territory — the kids are in charge of looking up caterpillar photos online, to see whether they’ll help or hurt the plants. Saturday morning, they found one crawling on a grape vine and proclaimed it poisonous. Into a plastic container it went, joining another caterpillar deemed bad news.

The family is well versed in fighting pesky intruders. Birds, insects and rodents have been bugging the strawberries for a while. To deal with the problem, the family placed fake snakes on top of the soil.

It’s worked well so far, Harrison said, as her daughter admonished her for speaking too loudly.She didn’t want the birds to hear the secret.

But it fell to Johnson to reveal the mystery of manure to an unsuspecting Kennedy.

“That’s disgusting,” Kennedy said.

 
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