A brief history of Kids Growing Strong
The need for the Kids Growing Strong program was realized more than ten years ago when the Founder of Kids Growing Strong, Maryanne Lucas, designed the Kids Adventure Garden at the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, a nonprofit, all-volunteer, 33-acre public garden in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Many of the children who came to the garden had little interest in the place, but as they toured around the garden their eyes became wide with wonder as they learned about the day-to-day drama that unfolds in a garden. The astonishment with which they greeted fruits and vegetables when introduced to live plants laden with real food was an eye-opener for volunteers at the garden.
It was obvious that there truly is a “disconnect” between children and the natural, REAL world. It is a sad fact these days that a child can get up in the morning and go through the whole day without ever having ONCE touched the earth or come in contact with nature. By removing children physically and spiritually from the natural world, their practical understanding of and interaction with nature has diminished along with the awareness of their dependency on it.
The Kids’ Garden proved to be a powerful tool to help “reconnect” children with the natural world that sustains them. But what about the children who could not visit the garden? Thus, Kids Growing StrongTM was born. Since its public debut in 2001 with the help of a small grant from the Shell Oil Company, Kids Growing Strong has evolved into an outreach program of garden-based education that takes experiences based upon garden lore and garden activities out to a public audience of more than 250,000 children and family members each year.
The focus of programing has expanded to include nutrition and food preparation. An activity carried out at the 2010 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show illustrates the need. Of 176 randomly surveyed parents, only 121 knew that beets were a vegetable, only 88 could actually identify a beet, and less than half that number knew how to prepare fresh beets. Similar results were found for other vegetables including squash, eggplant, sweet potato and even cucumbers. Everyone was amazed to find that only 36 out of 103 children knew that ‘French fries’ were potatoes. It was apparent that not only are many families disconnected from nature, they are also disconnected from the source of “real,” fresh fruits and vegetables.
Modern methods for growing and mass-processing food have created cheap, easily deliverable meals. These processed meals contain an abundance of calories but lack the wholesome, natural nutrients that are essential to growing bodies. Increasing the complexity of the problem, consider how successfully children are being manipulated into behaviors, wants and perceived needs without concern for the harm being done to the individual child. Children have become “consumers” – a corporate profit-stream. Ads stimulate cravings for junk food in youngsters who are not sophisticated enough to understand that they’re being manipulated… manipulated to the point where childhood obesity and poor health is rising and the life-expectancy of a child born today is lower than that of his parents.
Our children are in danger. Children can grow to be healthy, well-adjusted and well-educated adults only if the family and community are structured to help. Much of the burden to address these problems is being placed upon schools. Schools cannot succeed alone. This is where Kids Growing Strong programs are of great value. “…it takes a village to raise a child.” Kids Growing Strong provides children, families and communities with stimulating, educational experiences and much-needed educational support services to help their children grow happy, healthy and strong.