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Growing good habits

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HOLES: Zachary Garrison, 5, points to an empty spot in the vertical garden, which he said he hopes they can grow some strawberriesin once they fill it up later this year. Garrison said his favorite part was the growing lights that hang down the side of the tower, since they help the plants grow quicker.
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POINT: Braden Cannon, 4, points towardhis favorite plant during a break in the school dayThursday.
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PLANTS: Kids Kampus decided to grow different varieties of lettuce first to hopefully encourage the kids to expand their diet to include less popular vegetables.
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TOWER: The tower sits in the corner of the waiting room so that the students can check on them as they come and go each day. Just a week ago, the plants were a quarter of the size. Some students insist on watching the plants all day because they want don’t want to miss anything.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Oreo the guinea pig is about to have a lot of treats this year, now that Kids Kampus has a vertical gardening tower that will educate the preschoolers as they grow spring mix, lettuce and – Oreo’s personal favorite – kale.

The Health and Wellness Coalition, a local partnership between Parkview Huntington Hospital and United Way, donated the futuristic-looking tower earlier this year, just in time for spring. The coalition decided to expand the program to include Kids Kampus after they saw how well the program taught kids at Flint Springs Elementary School about biology, sustainability and nutrition, while also encouraging them to expand their palate.

“At Flint Springs… there were foods that kids had been nervous to try before, but once they grew it themselves, the students actually saw the benefit and reward of growing vegetables themselves,” United Way President and CEO Kyle Metzger said. “Then, they really wanted to try the food that they grew, so that is kind of where this all started.”

Flint Springs got their towers in 2016, and Metzger said the teachers have been excited to incorporate lessons into their curriculum. The students learn about the intricate process of growing a seed into food, everything from germination to photosynthesis.

Kids Kampus program director Elizabeth Hire said the preschoolers love the program so much that they are infatuated by the tower.

“They were all really excited,” Hire said. “They get to check in on them everyday when they come in and when they leave. A lot of them bring their parents in here to check them out. I’ve even had some 2-year-old students that have not wanted to leave because they want to stay and watch them grow, so that’s been pretty cute.”

Hire said the tower fits right in with their mission at Kids Kampus – learning by doing.

Metzger said the investment was a no-brainer, since the towers aren’t very expensive and require very little upkeep or maintenance.

“It’s an awesome investment to help the next generation to be able to not only eat healthy food but grow it themselves,” he said.

The program was made possible by a grant from Parkview Huntington Hospital totalling more than $32,000, which provides funding for 17 different programs focused on mental health, substance abuse, nutrition, health and wellness.

The more than $30,000 left in the grant is going toward programs like the cooking classes offered by Purdue Extension, youth health and fitness programing at the Parkview Huntington YMCA, the Huntington Farmer’s Market and substance abuse and recovery efforts by local churches and organizations.