- Project Duration: two years
- Date of Report: August 28, 2014
We have a small farm located on a 20 acre tract in Southeast Missouri. On our farm, we have a 20’ x 48’ greenhouse that is heated by a wood burning furnace and we have a 26’ x 96’ high tunnel. Along with these structures, we have a garden plot where we grow varieties of vegetables.
Prior to receiving this grant, we were operating solely out of the 20’ x 48’ greenhouse and were developing a small core of customers. Our customers purchased mainly vegetables, but some purchased plants such as tomatoes. Our focus was using organic methods for raising the vegetables which were from heirloom seeds. We experimented with raising some vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, during the winter. To do this, we utilized our existing outside wood furnace to heat the greenhouse. Firewood was harvested from our farm and from the larger farm owned by Steve’s father.
Our main goal of this project was to educate young children about choosing a healthy diet of fresh and locally grown vegetables. We felt if preschool and younger children could be part of the farm experience and be educated on where vegetables come from, they may be more likely to develop healthier and long-lasting eating habits. Another goal was to provide fresh vegetables during the fall and winter to our local school and childcare center.
To achieve these goals, we proposed a two year project. The first year was limited to one childcare facility to ensure our small greenhouse could meet the potential demand. We began purchasing and planting several varieties of plants, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. Next, a visit was made to the childcare center to educate the children on how vegetables grow and what types of food are made from vegetables. Actual vegetable plants were brought into the center and children were asked to identify each type. Several field trips were made to our farm by the childcare center. The children could see how the greenhouse works and how to plant and grow vegetables. We removed plants from the soil to show the children the different parts of the plant. Children were allowed to plant vegetable seeds and we discussed the process that occurs during the plant’s development. They each planted pea seeds into a six pack container. Proper watering and the role water plays in the growth of the plants was also a focus. Two more visits were made to the center at which time pictures were shown to indicate how the pea plants had grown. We also brought in samples of lettuce, grape tomatoes, peas and green onions for the children to try. A final visit was made to the greenhouse. At this visit, the children were once again quizzed about the parts of the plants. They were allowed to harvest lettuce and transplant tomato plants into large containers. Each child took their plant with them to grow at home.
Year two of the project involved the local Fredericktown preschool. We chose the preschool because we felt its smaller number of students were a better fit than the kindergarten classes. Similar to year one, several visits were made to the preschool to discuss how a garden works and how plants grow. Worksheets were given to the children describing the parts of a plant. We also planted trays of plants with the children at the preschool. This involved adding the soil to the trays then planting and watering the seeds. Sunflower seeds were also planted and we discussed how they attracted beneficial insects to pollinate the garden. The preschool children also made a field visit to our farm. Nearly 60 children arrived to see how the greenhouse works. We showed them all aspects of the operation, from the soil to how we heat the building. We explained how a greenhouse works and why it stays so warm during even cold days. The children were allowed to fill six pack trays with soil. Then they planted and watered seeds. One of the more exciting parts of the project was revitalizing an old garden spot at the preschool. A local business donated a large amount of compost which we hauled and unloaded onto the site. We amended the compost into the existing soil. Later, the children watched as we laid out a garden plot by making rows. We brought the children into the garden in small groups and they planted all types of plants. This gave the preschool its own garden by the play area for the children to watch as the plants developed.
- Lindell and Gloria Sikes
- Debi Kelly
- Donna Auftenburg-MO Extension
- Celeste Vanderburgen-MO Extension
- Elaine Smith
- Rebecca Hunt-Madison County Health Department
- Staff of Fredericktown Preschool
- Staff of Small Wonders/Country Kids Childcare
- Missy Bowman
- BC Compost- donated soil
We felt our goal of educating children about vegetables and how a garden works was clearly a success. At our initial visits to the childcare center and the preschool, the children were not well educated on this topic. They required substantial assistance when asked to name the parts of a plant on an activity sheet. After their visits to our farm, we saw a dramatic increase in their ability to describe the plants. Many of the children showed enthusiasm when planting and watering the plants. It is difficult to determine if we have made a long lasting effect on these children regarding a healthier diet. We do feel we gave many of them an introduction to fresh vegetables and their benefits. Something we would do differently next time is to involve parents more in the process and survey them to determine if there is a difference in the food choices by their children.
Our second goal of marketing fresh vegetables to the childcare centers and schools was not a success. Although there was interest from both facilities, they were not able to purchase our product. This may be due to our own lack of marketing skills. We would definitely seek more advice on how to get fresh vegetables in the schools.
This project was a wonderful opportunity for both me and my husband. It was a joy to teach the young children about gardening and give them an opportunity to experience a small part of farm life. We learned that marketing vegetables to large facilities, such as a school, takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Having three children and working other jobs posed a great challenge in achieving our goals for this project. One advantage we noted was starting out with a smaller childcare center instead of a large school. We were able to meet the demand of the small center, but feel that the larger school would have been too much for us to handle. The grant did help us purchase equipment and supplies that will continue to help our operation even when the grant is competed.
We had wanted to purchase high pressure sodium light to experiment with growing more tomatoes during the winter months. However, we attended a workshop in Cole County Missouri and discussed the topic with a University of Missouri professor. He felt this was a very lofty goal and gave us good reason to change our focus. We decided to concentrate on a better ventilation system for our greenhouse. The wood furnace to heat the greenhouse was also an issue. Due to a long winter, keeping up with the wood consumption was a major task and took considerable time. We plan to add a large propane heater to our greenhouse in combination with the wood furnace. Hopefully, this will reduce the wood required to keep the greenhouse heated.
Probably the best method of telling others about our project has been through word of mouth. Being a small town, we had several people ask about our project. A presentation was given at the Women in Agriculture Conference in Greenville, MO. This conference was sponsored by USDA Farm Service Agency. The project was discussed and pictures of the activities were shown as part of the presentation.
Our project will cover a two year timeframe. The first year will be limited to one childcare center and increase to two centers the second year. This will ensure our greenhouse production can meet the potential demands of the centers. The project will begin in July of the first year and continue until March. During this time, children from the center will take a minimum of three field trips to our farm to observe how the greenhouse functions and how vegetables are planted, grown and harvested. They will be able to plant seeds, such as basil, carrots, and lettuce, in containers and be able to watch them grow until they are harvested. Samples of the vegetables will be given to the children and staff to take back to their families to encourage them to get excited about growing and eating vegetables.
Along with the field trips, visits will be made to the childcare center bringing samples of different vegetables for them to taste. Periodic e-mails will be sent to the center showing progress pictures of the crops the children have planted. We will assist the local county health department’s childcare consultant and nutritionist in developing a presentation for the children and staff on the benefits of a healthy diet and provide healthy menu ideas. As vegetables are harvested, they will be marketed to the childcare center to prepare a proper diet plan for the children. Following the first year, we will evaluate our program and prepare the second phase which will again operate from July through March. During this time, the program will operate in much the same manner as the first phase, but will include a second childcare center.