Trinity Children’s Center: Giving Garden Project

2020 Update:

With the funds we received from the City Market Seedling Grant, we were able to expand our school Giving Garden to provide fresh produce to each of the 26 families who attended our summer program and 38 families whose children started the school year with us in September. Due to the Coronavirus shutdown, our garden plans looked a bit different than we had anticipated. 

We used some of the funds that we received to purchase over 40 plants for our garden, including 12 tomato plants, 12 broccoli starts, 9 pepper plants, 6 eggplants starts, and 2 zucchini plants. Additionally, we purchased a dozen seed packets to share with families in our school community. Many of the materials we had hoped to purchase were in short supply or unavailable because of the huge interest in gardening this spring. As a result, we’ll wait for spring 2021 to install our raised bed, but we were still able to grow a beautiful garden together this summer!

In April 2019, we invited families to our classroom to start seeds with their children and enjoy breakfast with ingredients we hoped to grow in our garden, like zucchini muffins and tomato and kale quiche. Because we were unable to bring the families to us, and with uncertainty about what our summer would look like, we send the seeds to the families! During a drive-by visit in early-May, teachers dropped off a packet that included cucumber and green bean seeds and planting directions to each of the 64 families who were enrolled in our school.  We specifically chose cucumber and bean varieties that would grow well in pots or small garden plots and set up a pick up station at our school with soil and containers for any family who needed supplies. Parents shared stories with us about the fun they had planting seeds with their children and many included pictures of their children with the vegetables they grew!

As we made plans to reopen our school, we also made plans to plant the garden. We prioritized the plants that would produce the most in mid-to-late summer, knowing that would be when we had the most children back at school. Each week during the summer, children took turns going out in small groups to the Giving Garden to water, pull weeds, and pick vegetables. We excitedly took pick pictures to document the chili peppers ripening, picked cherry tomatoes, and pushed aside large leaves to find baby zucchini. A few times each week we set up a table near our playground gate with small paper bags of tomatoes, a basket of peppers, bundles of herbs, and other goodies from the garden for families to help themselves to. Children told us their favorite vegetables to grow and taste this year were broccoli, cucumbers, and cayenne peppers!

Grant Amount: $3,000

TCC was the first Therapeutic Child Care Center in the state of Vermont, as well as the first Head Start Community Partner Collaborative site - making us one of the first centers in the state to practice true inclusion by supporting all children no matter what their background or educational need. We provide wrap around services for our families through our collaboration with Head Start, The Howard Center, and school district special education programs. We view the children we serve AND their entire family unit as a part of our community; we want our families to know that they are part of a loving, supportive community, especially as they are navigating the challenges of parenting a young child.

In our classrooms, we strive to represent the community we live in. We use intentional enrollment to ensure that our classrooms are made up of students that represent the diversity of our community. As a result, TCC is a diverse community of learners and families with a multitude of languages, dialects, cultures, socioeconomic brackets, and strengths.

The project we are hoping to fund through the Seedling Grant is the Trinity Children's Center Giving Garden Project. The Giving Garden is a project that we have begun this year as a teaching space to help young children understand where their food comes from and help them feel empowered and excited to make healthy food choices, with the goal of sending fresh vegetables home with families who may otherwise lack access.

In April 2019 the Sunshine Classroom at Trinity Children's Center hosted a breakfast. We invited families to come in for the morning to start seeds that we obtained through a generous donation from High Mowing Organic Seeds, and enjoy breakfast foods made with vegetables we are planting, including zucchini muffins, carrot muffins, and tomato and kale quiche. In May 2019, we held a playground clean-up day and with the help of families we cleared an overgrown perennial garden next to our main entrance, moved the plants to other parts of our outdoor space, and prepared that space for planting a vegetable garden. In addition, during our annual National Outdoor Classroom Day, children from each classroom were able to help plant the seedlings we had started and construct a bean tee-pee.

Looking ahead, children will continue to be involved in maintenance of the garden; including weeding, watering, picking, and tasting the vegetables the garden produces. We will create plant tags with translations for the many languages that are spoken by TCC families, as well as photos for children and adults with limited literacy skills to be able to identify when the vegetables are ripe and ready to harvest.

Creating the Trinity Children's Center (TCC) Giving Garden is intended to help ease food insecurity for the families we serve. Currently 34 of our 64 students (53%) receive free lunch; based on their high level of poverty, this lunch may be the most substantial and nutritious meal they eat each day. Many of these families also have older children who access school lunch programs during the year, but may not have transportation to get to summer lunch sites. During the months when the Giving Garden will be most productive, we will be able to send home produce to help these families supplement what they are able to purchase.

Additionally, approximately 20% of our families are New Americans, for whom navigating access to food can be difficult and confusing. While many of these families do receive benefits from 3SquaresVT or WIC, factors like transportation, disability, or lack of English can make it difficult to use them. The food that is most accessible at food shelves is shelf stable and often processed; food that New Americans may not be comfortable cooking or eating. By growing produce that these families will utilize, we can help them to stretch their food budget further, continue to strengthen our home-school relationship, and honor their traditions and culture.