Eat those veggies, but grow them first
Claudia Ravines Clarke from the Cornell Cooperative Extension helps children prepare a fresh salsa during a Children’s Garden Program in North Bellport.


Eat those veggies, but grow them first


Claudia Ravines Clarke and Gerry Lake, nutritionists from the Cornell Cooperation Extension SNAP-ED program and mentors for the Children’s Garden Program, taught local kids the benefits of making fresh salsa from tomatoes, instead of the canned version found on supermarket shelves. Their demonstration took place outside during the heat of the day last Friday in a North Bellport garden, so they offered “water with a twist,” that is, water with strawberries and mint as a way to keep them hydrated and offer an alternative to sugared beverages. Lake wants the children to become familiar with vegetables and to grow up knowing where vegetables come from and how they’re grown.

Clarke and Lake initiated the Bellport Children’s Garden Program, a first-time event that promotes good health and nutrition to the younger generation, with some help from the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area, the Brookhaven Diabetes Wellness Center and the Cornell Cooperation Extension SNAP-ED program. Each class is taught by Cornell Extension educators and consists of a lecture and an activity for the children to participate in. Not only will the children learn about gardening and the importance of healthy eating, they’ll be planting vegetables and sampling healthy snacks, like the salsa made during classes. 

As the classes go on for the next six weeks, Clarke and Lake will teach the children different lessons and healthy recipes they can make at home. The Cornell Cooperative Extension will offer a free Children’s Garden Program at the Chris Hobson and Bill Neal Community Garden, located at Patchogue and McDonald avenues in North Bellport, for six consecutive weeks from 10:30 a.m. to noon to inform the youth on healthy living.

“To get the right things out of the body, we need to put the right things into the body,” emphasized Jason Neal, community liaison for the Boys and Girls Club. 

Neal said the program’s goal is to not only make sure the children become strong now, but “strong for their whole life long.” Neal enforces the importance of putting the right things into young bodies to ensure the children will live a productive lifestyle. Eating healthy can also be colorful, consisting of varieties of different fruits and veggies.

“We saw the need for children to grow,” said Waveney Klaiber, a board member for the Chris Hobson and Bill Neal Community Garden. Klaiber believes summer is the best time to teach children about gardening and wants to get across to the younger generation the idea that vegetables don’t spurt up at supermarkets. “One seed can make a big difference,” said Klaiber, referring to the seeds donated by HomeGrownChange. Klaiber said her goal after the six consecutive weeks is for the children to walk away with a life lesson that wherever they go to live they can take their love of gardening with them. “Once they learn [about healthy eating], they will never lose it because it’s an internal thing,” she said. 

The Cornell Cooperative Extension conducts outreach for the community and works with low-income areas to provide healthy living community workshops for free. The goal of the workshops is to teach people to make healthy lifestyle choices every day and prepare quick, easy and low-cost, nutritious meals. 

The Children’s Garden Program will take place for five more consecutive weeks with one class offered each week. This free program accepts children between the ages of 7-12 and space is limited to 15 children a class.