COUNCIL BLUFFS — Harvest is underway at the Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Council Bluffs members and children staying at the MICAH House, along with staff members and community volunteers, have been tending the Lakin Campus Community Garden and collecting this year’s crop, said Delanna Fries, Boys & Girls Clubs cook and garden coordinator. The plot is sheltered by a hoop house behind the club building.
“About 75 to 100 kids worked out there this summer,” she said. “We went at least four times a week.”
The children have really taken an interest in the project, said Chris Peterson, program director at Boys & Girls Clubs.
“You’d be surprised how many kids go out there when it’s 95 degrees and it’s hot,” he said.
“Our portion of the garden is maintained by volunteers, but we do have families that assist with harvesting,” said Lisa Emken, assistant director of the MICAH House.
Last year, the two organizations used 206 pounds of food harvested from the garden, Peterson said. Additional produce was sent home with members and to other organizations.
“It’s so important to our kids especially, because many of them have never even tasted fresh food,” Emken said. “This is a great opportunity for them to taste something that is fresh and hom-grown.
“This year, we planted some herbs, so we have really been able to kick up the taste of our foods.” The hoop house was put up in September 2011 by Iowa Western Community College construction technology students, Fries said.
“It was a service learning tool,” she said.
Iowa Western was awarded a $25,000 grant from Learn & Serve America, a federally funded program, to build the hoop house.
Fries works with kindergartners and first-graders in groups of six and older children in groups of up to a dozen, she said. Besides being in charge of tending the garden, she cultivates teamwork, responsibility and other positive behaviors among the students.
“It does teach them patience,” she said.
For the summer season, workers planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, corn, sunflowers, radishes, turnips, cucumbers, watermelon, pumpkins and an assortment of herbs, Fries said. The carrots, onions and broccoli didn’t do too well.
“The rabbits and the mice keep eating our carrots,” she said. “The radishes, tomatoes and peppers did really well.”
The fresh produce tastes “awesome,” Fries said.
“Green beans are the (children’s) favorite,” she said. “They’ll sit and eat them like snacks.”
The children have classes on food preparation and cooking, too, Fries said.
“They made salsa,” she said. “They really liked the jalapeños and the spicy red peppers.”
Gardeners have already started planting for the fall season, she said. Selections will include carrots, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, flowers and other plants.
“Because of the greenhouse, we’re able to get produce longer than if it were outside,” Emken said.
“The goal for next summer is to get all of the agencies involved in some way,” she said. “We would love to have interested gardeners in the community come to help.”