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IU’s Hilltop Garden cultivates food and family fun

Milana Katic

July 10, 2014

Ever since its start in 1948, IU’s Hilltop Garden and Nature Center has aimed to provide some type of kid-friendly gardening program. However, in a technology-driven world, gardening activities aren’t necessarily as attractive to children as an afternoon playing on the iPad.

That’s why Lea Woodard, Hilltop’s coordinator, decided to involve the family.

“Research is showing that families are looking for things they can volunteer at together,” Woodard said.  “It kind of got me thinking that I could do a family program.” 

Enter the Family Gardening Program at Hilltop Gardens, a way for the entire family to get closer to nature, learn where their food comes from, and literally reap the benefits of their hard work. The program's first year attracted 10 families interested in teaching their children the benefits of growing their own food and learning a bit about how to work with nature themselves.

“The goal of the program is to teach not only children about gardening and connecting with nature, but the parents are learning as well,” Woodard said.

“It’s just passing on the tradition of gardening, the knowledge of gardening, and keeping farmers alive,” said Tina Hall, a mother involved in the program. “I think that’s nice, and (it’s) letting our younger generations be involved as well.”

The program typically meets every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning to best fit within the families’ schedules, leaving Wednesday evening open for families to tend and harvest as they wish. Each session starts with an indoor learning activity followed by an outdoor lesson in garden upkeep.

“I like the lessons inside the best because you can do fun activities,” said Avery Njau, a fifth-grader participating in the program. “A few weeks ago we made smoothies from stuff here in the garden. It’s fun coming here.”

The program also provides an opportunity for families to spend time together while working as a unit.

“It’s just a bonding time,” Woodard said. “You’re also working together to meet a goal -- one that’s meeting a basic need of growing your own food.”

The program will run until mid-October, when the first frost typically occurs. The garden plots are full now, but Woodard hopes to continue the program next year. 

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