Camden youngsters learn nutrution "hands-on"

CAMDEN, N.J.; December 10, 2009

It's close to the end of the class day at St. Anthony of Padua School on River Road, in Camden.

Normally, their attention might wander. But not today.

Jeff Clarke has their full attention at the front of the classroom.

"What are these? Peppers - that's right," he says.

The youngsters are are anxious to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

The big salad they are about to eat includes vegetables that started right in the classroom's own mini-greenhouse.

For some students in this inner-city neighborhood, it's the first salad they've ever eaten.

Clarke says to one little girl, "Would you like a tomato with yours?"

She nods excitedly.

More than 2 dozen camden schools are holding Salad Parties this week, to mark the end of thier semester with the GrowLab Program.

Every 2 weeks, Clarke, of the Camden City Garden Club, leads hands-on lessons about plants.

Clarke says, "Not only about growing them, but about nutrition, and understanding how nutrition comes from healthy eating, and from plants."

The children plant seeds, and as the seedlings grow, so does the kids' knowledge.

Jeff asks 2 little boys, "Lettuce - is it a fruit or a vegetable? Boys - uh, vegetable!"

The plants are often transplanted into community gardens, like the one across from St. Anthony's.

The youngsters garden alongside family members or neighbors, learning about the sciences, math, healthy eating - and teamwork.

Even now in December, vitamin-packed greens like swiss chard are still growing.

Luz Duran is taking home a giant "bouquet" of carrots.

Luz told us, "I love the garden. I grow at home, but this is different, doing it with other people."

As Luz talks, she's also holding a giant armful of the herb cilantro, anxious to get back home to put them into some dishes.

The garden started small, but was expanded this year to 3/4 of an acre.

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