What is in this article?:
- Hy-Vee Kidsâ€™ Garden Grows, Spurs New Program
- Cooking With Kids
“The children’s garden is a good example of a valuable program that started at grass roots level and has spread out to other stores."
— Ruth Comer, assistant vice president, media relations, Hy-Vee
AUSTIN, Minn. — When Hy-Vee dietitian Jen Haugen launched a kids’ garden last year in a small plot of land next to a Hy-Vee store here, she had no idea she was starting such a run of similar efforts elsewhere in the 234-unit chain, she said recently. Nor did she know that her kids’ garden would spearhead a corporate effort to help support community gardens.
That’s what has happened. It’s estimated that about 40 more Hy-Vee stores got kids’ gardens underway this past summer.
It’s notable that here at the Austin store, Haugen has attracted two new sponsors, has taken on youngsters from a nearby middle school to join her 3-to-9-year olds in their weed-pulling, planting and learning project. The kid count now comes to 150, up from 80 in the summer of 2011.
“The children’s garden is a good example of a valuable program that started at grass roots level and has spread out to other stores,” Ruth Comer, Hy-Vee’s assistant vice president, media relations, told SN.
“Omaha and Dubuque started up similar projects pretty quickly,” Comer said. “Each of our stores has autonomy to do what they want, and we have 200 dietitians who have a tight line of communication.”
The chain’s dietitians, many of whom have followed Haugen’s lead with their own gardens, generally have been the initiators of such projects at their stores, with help from their store directors and some associates.
Comer talked about the multiple benefits of the children’s gardens.
“They bring people into the store. They see the gardens and want to know what’s going on.” They’re also a reminder of Hy-Vee’s community-consciousness, Comer pointed out.
Comer said the kids’ gardens get kids to eat better, introducing them to vegetables they may not have tried before, and may even help fight childhood obesity.
“They’re learning about where their food comes from, and they’re learning about local foods,” Comer said. Research has shown that kids are more willing to eat what they plant, Comer said in an earlier interview.
At the beginning of this year, as Haugen planned her second season of children’s gardening here, she held a webinar on the subject, and, in conjunction with other Hy-Vee dietitians, she put a manual together to show others at the company how to start a like project.
“We, at corporate, then had the manuals printed so everybody in our company could have them, and some have taken it and run with it,” Comer pointed out.
Read more: Hy-Vee Builds Community Garden
A recently launched corporate program aimed at aiding community gardens, is an off-shoot of the children’s garden idea, she said
“Now we’ve tied the effort into our One Step program, a cause-marketing program.” Customers buying certain One Step-labeled items are informed that a certain amount of the proceeds will go to a good cause that affects the environment in a positive way.
“For instance, for every five-pound bag of potatoes bought, part of the proceeds goes to help fund community gardens,” Comer explained, as she offered an example.
“A Des Moines school began planting a garden. It was their program, but we got involved by setting up a plan for them, and supplying tools and seeds,” with proceeds from sales of One Step potatoes.
When Haugen started her kid’s garden project, “Sprouts — Get Out and Grow,” here last year, it wasn’t long until children were leading their parents into the produce department at the store here to look for such unlikely items as kale, watercress and Swiss chard.
That’s because the program is more than a hands-on gardening project. One of Haugen’s objectives was to introduce children to vegetables they might not be familiar with, vegetables that their parents might not even be familiar with.
The kids planted some familiar vegetables, but Haugen made sure some of the plants were not so familiar. Swiss chard, acorn squash, basil and cilantro, for example. Even before harvest time, Haugen brought out some vegetables from the store’s produce department to see how many kids could, for instance, identify Swiss chard. It got 30% to 40% recognition, she said. Even some parents didn’t know what it was.