In the morning hours at the Chattanooga Boys and Girls Club, children gather around raised bed gardens to water, weed and pick dying leaves off the plants they planted. The four raised garden beds contain tomatoes, green chili peppers, squash, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers and herbs.
"We wanted to give the Garden Club members an idea of healthy food choices," said Boys and Girls Club Executive Vice President Debbie Gray. "This is part of our Nutrition Healthy Foods program. We want to show them the cycle of a healthy food life."
The boys and girls in the Garden Club tend to the plants weekly. Graduate student Johnny Payne, an environmental education programs major at Southern Adventist University, talks to the Garden Club Tuesday mornings about how to care for the plants.
"I hope the vegetable plants grow well, because I look forward to trying them," said Cecelia Hawkins, 11. "We have been working in the gardens for a few weeks."
Tyrone Snow, 11, and Brandon Davis, 10, agreed that they are excited to grow tomatoes, onions and peppers to make salsa and soup with once the crops are ripe for picking.
"We want to grow the garden real fast," said Demarius Corbin, 12. "We plant a plant in the middle to keep the other plants healthy so they stay alive for a long time. We put cages around the plants too."
Gray said the squash, zucchini and eggplant in the garden will be used to create vegetable lasagna for the children to try. The club is also growing herbs like oregano and chocolate mint for cooking.
"Gardening can be a lot of fun," said Gray. "Vegetable gardens have a lot of vitamins in it. We put organic fertilizer in the gardens."
She said the Chattanooga Boys and Girls Club's Anthony Beasley will help Garden Club members learn to cook what they grow. Beasley will be assisted by Stevin Burton, a recent graduate of Brainerd High School who was in charge of the Brainerd High Bistro.
Every month Greenlife Grocery hosts a cooking class and donates profits to a local charity. Greenlife recently donated class fees to the Boys and Girls Club to be used to purchase blenders and food processors for the club kitchen to prepare food grown in the gardens.
"I think it's important the kids are exposed to different foods," said Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga program manager Cynetria Watkins. "It's important to be healthy. We would like to get involved in helping the community. Maybe we could make some food for the elderly in the neighborhood. We want to give back too, because a lot of people help us. This is a good community service project for the kids."
The gardens are made possible through a Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Step One Grant for $1,000 that funded the wood, screws, soil and plants to create the gardens.
Gray said the Boys and Girls Club plans to plant a fall garden after the current crops are picked.