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Garden of goodness

Garden of goodness
Second-grader Emma Haugen turns over soil during a garden and cooking program for kids Wednesday at Hy-Vee in Austin.

Grow it, and they will come.

It could be a good motto for the Hy-Vee program "Sprouts — Get Out and Grow," a garden and cooking program for kids aimed at giving them a seed-to-table experience to help their education and love of vegetables grow.

Austin Hy-Vee registered dietitian Jen Haugen started the program last summer, and it turned out to be a success that reached more than 80 children to help them gain a healthier lifestyle.

"It's actually really amazing," Haugen said. "My intention was only to have a garden for our store."

She answered to the success and then subsequent demand of the Sprouts program. This year, more than 40 other Hy-Vee stores are holding their own "Get Out and Grow" programs. Haugen led training for other dietitians this past winter and wrote a manual. Some were in awe of the ideas Haugen brought forth for the program, but she said she grew up gardening.


"It wasn't a big leap for me," Haugen said. "I just really like it. I love working with the kids in the garden."

Kids come for the weekly class (June 13 to Aug. 22) in the 40-by-60-foot garden area in Hy-Vee's parking lot. The class is focused on children ages 3-11. 

In addition to the program gaining a lot of popularity within the Hy-Vee company, Sprouts has a few other changes this year. Haugen added  plants and veggies in the garden boxes for about 19 different items, including carrots, sweet heat peppers, cauliflower, summer squash and — the theme for this week — herbs.

Another new thing this year is the local partnership with the Hormel Institute to help solidify the connection of fresh fruits and vegetables to good health with fun, interactive activities for the kids. Gretchen Ramlo from the institute was there for Wednesday's class to talk about the herb ginger. The kids tried some crystallized ginger and ginger tea.

"Ginger's really good stuff," Ramlo said. "So that's a pretty good deal when we can eat something that tastes good and it helps us stay healthy, too."

Not all of the kids enjoyed a taste of the ginger, but Haugen quickly reminded them of one of the mottos for Sprouts.

"Don't 'yuck' someone else's 'yum,'" Haugen said. "We don't want to say 'yuck' in the garden. We only want to say positive things."

Since herbs were the focus of the day, the kids learned a little more about the ones growing in the garden: parsley, basil, cilantro, oregano and rosemary. They talked about what foods the herbs are used in, and they had a chance to smell the herbs by touching them.


After some garden weeding and tomato harvesting, the little gardeners got to work making a snack — pizza toast. They cut up their tomatoes and used the herbs basil and oregano to help make their culinary creation.

"We get to use all the stuff we grow out here for our classes," Haugen said.

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