Youth Grow Local at Troy Gardens
By Nathan Larson | Photos By Nathan Larson 0
In the mid-90s, a group of concerned neighbors gathered around a kitchen table to hatch an audacious plan for saving a muchloved piece of land in Madison from development. They never dreamed how wildly successful their plan would be. The piece of land, affectionately known as Troy Gardens , was eventually saved through the efforts of a broad-based coalition of forward-thinking individuals and organizations. Not only did the coalition successfully ensure that 26 acres of urban land would stay open for future generations, it created a community-based nonprofit organization called Community GroundWorks to develop Troy Gardens into a new kind of urban park. Today Troy Gardens is home to an organic community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, over 300 community garden plots, an award-winning Kids’ Garden, a Hmong demonstration garden, restored tallgrass prairie, sugar maple woodland, nature trails and edible landscaping. The success of Troy Gardens has led Community GroundWorks to develop garden projects in other parts of the Madison as well, including the East High Youth Farm and the recently installed demonstration vegetable garden at the state capitol building.
Education lies at the heart of Troy Gardens and other Community GroundWorks projects. The Community GroundWorks learning community engages a diverse population of children and adults in a wide variety of hands-on learning opportunities. One such opportunity, the Troy Kids’ Garden, offers children from area schools and community centers a wonderful learning environment to connect with good food—and to learn exactly where their food comes from through direct experience.
In the Troy Kids’ Garden, providing children with regular hands-on opportunities to engage in meaningful garden work is the key to fostering positive relationships with food. When given an opportunity to grow, prepare and eat food in the garden, young people forge a deeply personal relationship with the food that sustains them. This relationship encourages children to be adventurous about eating a wide variety of less familiar fruits and vegetables. For example, after harvesting a broccoli floret and taking a bite, a child exclaimed, “Yum! Wait, I thought broccoli was gross!” In the Kids’ Garden, children enjoy munching on such fresh treats as spring garlic, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and kohlrabi. Through these first-hand experiences, children learn a great deal about the food that they are eating. One afternoon, a young boy pulled a big, red raspberry from its cane, and while staring deep into the resulting hollow center, he said, “Oh! That’s why they have holes in them.”