The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Amazing Things Happen when Kids Learn to Garden

Amazing Things Happen when Kids Learn to Garden

In the News

October 29, 2013

Guest columnist Jen Haugen, RDN, LD, Hy-Vee Dietician

If your child came home wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables, as a parent, would it make you fall off your chair? As a supermarket dietitian at Hy-Vee in Austin, Minnesota, I frequently interact with parents that are frustrated about their child’s eating habits. Recently, I made and sampled vegetable flatbread pizza full of cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, basil and garlic and a parent told their child “You won’t like that.” Well, have them grow their own cherry tomatoes, spinach, basil and garlic and the result might be quite different.    

I created a garden program for kids to educate, inspire and create healthier lifestyles starting with our youngest future shoppers. What’s cool about it?  It’s on location at our supermarket – the first supermarket in the nation to do so. It’s right outside our front doors surrounded by white, vinyl fencing and features over 525 square feet of garden space to grow fruits and vegetables of all kinds including Swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, basil and so much more.   

During the summer months, kids from our community attend weekly classes that feature education about gardening, learning and connecting fresh food to good health through simple nutrition lessons, and of course, cooking up the harvest depending on what is ready that week in the garden. And, yes, we made MyPlate garden pizza featuring vegetables and the kids loved it because they grew and harvested the veggies.  

This garden is a dream come true for me. It started out as a seed of a dream in 2008 and has now grown into a fully sustainable garden that is impacting the health of the kids in our community and so many others as the program has spread to more than 50 stores across Hy-Vee. 

Why does teaching kids how to garden have such a stronghold on me? I grew up on a farm knowing where everything on my plate came from. Picking broccoli out of our large garden was something I did for fun during the summer months and preserving the harvest was a tradition that led us to consuming those fruits and vegetables all throughout the year. I learned the value of eating fresh food, how it helped me grow and have enough energy to sustain those farm jobs including rock picking, baling hay and shoveling manure out of the barn. I knew that gardening was good for me and my family because it encouraged our family to eat more fruits and vegetables, it made us more active, and it was a time of connection and conversation. I wanted to teach that to kids in my community.

Now that our third season is complete, we are reaping the benefits or “fruits of our labor.” I have a parent that shared with me her seven-year-old daughter’s thoughts after a class this summer: “Mom, I know how to prevent cancer. Eat the rainbow.” I have a mother that is trying to feed her family in a more healthful way because her five-year-old son learned about MyPlate in the garden and encouraged her to buy more whole grains for their family. If I heard those comments from my own children, I would be completely motivated to make changes knowing they are already on board with it.

You see, my goal with this program is to get kids to eat healthier, and therefore, live healthier. And motivate their family to do the same. It’s doing just that. In a survey of the parents who had children participating in the program (I don’t even see the parents, it’s an impact of what their own children are teaching them from the garden classes), here is what I learned: 

Planting the seed of health with kids while they are young can help them grow into healthier, more productive, adults. And children are strong motivators for change in their family. Gardening with my own kids brings me joy and teaching other families to do the same is something I know can make a difference in the health of our communities and our nation.   

If you would like to learn more, contact Jen at