News: Never too young to go green
Story by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin
FORT BLISS, Texas – As Fort Bliss continues to make progress toward achieving Net Zero Waste, through reducing and repurposing waste, the children at the Logan Heights Child Development Center are proving you’re never too young to go green.
In classroom 159, this intrepid group of youngsters, ages three to five years old, and their dedicated teachers, are in the second year of maintaining their own vegetable garden. The children utilize recycled tires and cans for planters and participate in composting, or turning recyclable materials like coffee grounds and egg shells into soil, planting, watering and harvesting.
The project is an opportunity for the children to learn about responsibility, healthy food choices and the environment.
“I have always felt that so many of our kids don’t know where things come from. They don’t understand that food doesn’t just show up at the commissary, it has to grow,” said Marianna Ross, training and curriculum specialist at the Logan Heights location. Ross also taught elementary school before her husband was stationed here.
She said she knew children were naturally interested in seeing things grow, and the opportunity to have a large garden is not possible for children who live in apartments or on base. When another teacher offered to provide her a free composter for this location, she took the opportunity and ran with it.
“Last year I was really nervous because I knew that in order for the garden to happen again this year, it had to be successful. I had to make sure things grew,” said Ross. “The kids kind of didn’t believe it was going to happen, thought maybe we were wasting their time with the dirt and the seeds and then boom, we have grown zucchini that we’re eating. When we started having pumpkins come on the vine and marigolds, it was just like a miracle to them.”
Ross said she knew the program was going to be a success when she heard children and parents talking about vegetables on the way out. The children have become the household composting police, making sure their parents don’t throw out anything which could be recycled.
“One of the programs we do at CYSS (Child, Youth & School Services) is ‘Character Counts.’ It talks about the pillars of character and one of the pillars is citizenship. We feel like being good stewards of the environment is part of being a good citizen,” said Ross.
Even the Garrison Commander, Col. Joseph Simonelli, visited the center to see the class and their vegetable garden. The children created a book for the colonel and gave him a tour of their efforts – which he praised as being a positive step in reducing the amount of garbage going into the Fort Bliss landfill.
Vegetables from the children’s garden were used in classroom cooking projects, such as making an Army birthday cake, and donated to the Old Fort Bliss Museum. Ross said she hopes this year’s garden will produce enough vegetables that they can be incorporated into the children’s meals as side dishes at least once a week.
“When the children grow the vegetables, they are much more willing to try them,” said Rachel Gonzalez, pre-kindergarten teacher at Logan Heights and the main teacher in charge of the garden.
She said it is sometimes difficult to keep the children from wanting to eat the vegetables before they are washed.
Gonzalez said she felt like a natural fit for the gardening project because it was something she was personally passionate about.
“I’m a big recycler myself,” said Gonzalez. “I thought this was a great opportunity for the children to take on recycling and become aware of the Earth.”
The gardening project, in some form, should be expanding to each of the Fort Bliss Child Development Centers this year.