Farm Horizons, June 2016

Four-Square for Childcare in Wright County

By Gabe Licht

Toddlers smile as they play in the dirt.

In reality, they’re not playing; they’re planting.

The hope is they’ll try the fresh produce they grow.

That’s the focus of the Four-Square for Childcare Project currently underway at 14 family childcare locations in Wright County.

The project – part of a Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grant – is overseen by Susan DeMars, health promotion coordinator with Wright County Public Health.

Some goals of the grant include focuses on community, healthy eating, and active living.

“That’s where childcare comes in under those three categories,” DeMars said. “We work with childcare providers in helping them offer more fresh food and more active play. That’s where I come in.”

Each participating daycare received $300 in equipment, with $150 paying for a terrace and one 4-foot-by-4-foot raised garden bed filled with soil, and an additional $150 in garden equipment.

“To get the $300, they had to do four hours of training and develop a policy statement relating to offering more fresh vegetables,” DeMars said. “ . . . We taught childcare providers about various topics, such as planting, harvesting, how to work with children in a garden, and garden safety.”

The project began months before gardening season.

“In January, we did ‘throw-in-the-snow gardens,’” DeMars said.

Those gardens started with milk cartons that were cut in half. Children then filled the bottom portion with soil and seeds. They taped the top portion back onto the carton, punched holes in it, and threw it in the snow.

“Seedlings come up as soon as it gets warm enough,” DeMars said. “They could transplant them. They grew beets, peas, carrots, just for kids to get excited and see something growing in the winter.”

Later on, children created seedling pots by folding a piece of newspaper into a decomposable pot. They placed soil and seeds into the pot, which could be placed in a garden at home.

Once planting season arrived, the daycares received their gardens. String is used to divide the gardens into 16 square-foot sections, allowing for up to 16 different types of plants.

DeMars and master gardener intern Laurie Jensen visited the gardens in May, and will visit them again in June, July, and August to see if the providers have questions or need help.

May’s visit showed the progress the gardens have been making. DeMars and Jensen also delivered bedding plants such as tomatoes and peppers.

“A lot of them have peas growing, onions growing, and their potatoes are up,” DeMars said. “I’ve had wonderful comments on how well it’s going.”

Part of that success is due to the project’s sponsors.

James Weninger’s students at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted constructed the four-square boxes, while Seena Glessing’s students planted the bedding plants in horticulture class at HLWW.

Fred Holasek and Son Greenhouses in Lester Prairie supplied the soil at cost.

Otto Transfer, of Delano, offered the use of a heavy-duty truck and trailer to transport the nearly seven tons of soil to 14 childcare sites.

Local 4-H members helped unload the soil at the sites.

Wright County Childcare Licensor Becky Domjahn approved four credit hours for the participating providers.

Connie Lahr, of Gardening World Wide in Maple Lake, offered the books “Square Foot Gardening with Kids.”

The city of Howard Lake provided a community room free of charge for the training sessions.

If successful, the project could continue for another year.

“This is a project we’ll evaluate in September,” DeMars said. “The 14 providers and I will get together to see what was successful, and if they would do it again.”

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