By Christine Bryant
Even during the most wintry days, Highland Youth Garden Club members find a way to connect with nature.
Through hands-on activities, area youth learn in a safe space, says Carmen Gil, manager of afterschool and family programs.
“The purpose of the garden club overall – we have a session for every season – is to have a program that allows children in the Hilltop a diverse safe space to call their own,” Gil said. “It is a program that allows the children to grow their own food, learn how to grow it, maintain it and learn various ways to prepare it.”
The Highland Youth Garden works with more than 350 students each year and grows over 3,000 pounds of food annually, all of which is offered to Hilltop neighbors through programs and garden markets.
During warmer months, garden club members help maintain the half-acre plot of land that sits at 67 S. Highland Ave., just south of West Broad Street.
Even during cooler months, there’s plenty of work to do and learning opportunities available, Gil says.
“During the fall, we focused on cooking, social emotional and community,” she said. “During winter, we are working on various themes and starting seedlings to plant out in the garden.”
Activities vary from harvesting fruits and vegetables to creating variations of recipes, using natural items found in the garden to make dyes, and creating nature art.
Students also learn about ways they can use nature to regulate their bodies and how they can give back to the community by harvesting or creating items that offer joy.
“The hope is that what we teach them or engage them in will become lifelong knowledge and experiences,” Gil said.
Planting seeds and taking them home provides a science experiment students can follow, while learning the various insects and how they may help or harm plants help them know which bugs they may need to relocate to help the plants in the garden thrive, she says.
This winter, the garden club has held anywhere between two to three sessions weekly. Each day, up to 10 students have attended.
“So we may have anywhere from 20 to 30 students who come to the garden weekly,” Gil said.
Kindergarten through 6th-grade students who live or go to school on the Hilltop are eligible to sign up for the garden club.
Others who are interested in volunteering can sign up for a variety of opportunities, from helping with educational programming to working in the garden and behind-the-scenes planning. Gil says the organization will welcome volunteers again for this season starting March 1. Volunteers can sign up online at highlandyouthgarden.org/get-involved.