Gardening with God
Published 9:07 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014
When so many others fail in a tangled mess of thriving weeds and choked-out plants, how has a vegetable garden in North Suffolk, tended by 5-year-olds, been such a success?
Church and community volunteers came together to build The Children’s Garden at Ebenezer United Methodist Church last winter. The first planting was this spring.
“I used to be an elementary school teacher, and so I know the importance of hands-on learning,” said Jenelle Mejia, Ebenezer’s director of children’s ministries, who devised the garden.
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Church preschoolers started the planting with carrots and radishes. The radishes, particularly, were a tactical move, according to Mejia, because they overcome the boredom factor endemic with children by growing almost overnight.
At the garden on Tuesday, 14 junior green thumbs between the ages of 3 and 11 went to work, watering, pulling weeds and plucking the fruits of their labor. Ainsley Lowe, 3, smiled as she dropped a tomato into the bowl.
Turning a bunch of children loose in a vegetable patch would be a recipe for disaster under most circumstances, but Mejia and the other adult volunteers mentor them closely on “garden etiquette.”
“They are excited about it, and that’s what’s important,” Mejia said. “Especially nowadays, when kids are playing video games every day and nobody gets their fingers dirty.”
Along with gardening skills, the kids also try new foods. “We grew peas in the spring, and a couple of them spat it out — but they tried it,” Mejia said.
“I think it’s important (to teach them) that vegetables don’t just come from the grocery store — people have to grow them.”
While day-camp children are mostly populating the garden during the summer, neighborhood kids are also invited in to get some dirt beneath their nails, and church families are encouraged to pull weeds, as well.
Harvested vegetables are delivered to a food bank in Isle of Wight County, and also support Ebenezer’s own food bank, according to Mejia.
At Thanksgiving, the church will open its doors to the community and the children will help cook and serve the sweet potatoes they grew, she said.
The vegetable garden is thriving under Mejia’s tutelage of the children, but she maintains she’s no expert, just an avid researcher and experimenter.
“It’s just all trial-and-error and figuring things out,” she said.
But “positive energy and prayer” may also have something to do with it, she added.