ARNOLD, Mo. (AP) - Hundreds of children in the St. Louis area are getting an early taste of growing their own food.
Gateway Greening, a St. Louis nonprofit, operates a program called Kids Garden Fresh, which provides for the construction and maintenance of community gardens at school.
Gateway Greening spokesman Steve Eigsti said schools and youth organizations now tend to 64 gardens throughout the region. In some cases, food grown in the gardens is served in the school's lunch room.
"Our philosophy is you reach more students through hands-on activity," Eigsti said. "It's fascinating to watch these kids' amazement when they discover a tomato turned red or a radish pulled from the ground."
The idea is to teach kids about science and nutrition in a hands-on way. Meanwhile, kids learn the value of a well-rounded diet. Gateway Greening provides start-up materials and educational support.
"We've had a garden club for three years," said Jeanne Fluri, a teacher at Meramec Heights Elementary School in Arnold. "The kids love being out there. They water and fertilize at recess and now the lunch room uses some of our vegetables."
Marian Middle School in St. Louis is among eight schools with new garden projects this year.
"We want to use the garden to sustain our culinary arts program by having fresh produce on campus," said Jessica Kilmade, student services director for the school, which requires all 75 of its students, all girls, to take culinary arts courses.
"We want them to learn where food comes from," Kilmade said. "We want to fight childhood obesity through proper nutrition and lifestyle choices."
Kilmade said the school will grow beans, tomatoes and squash in a corner of its parking lot. It hopes to have its garden ready by October.
At Meramec Heights, students are eager for a new adventure this school year.
"We're growing corn for the first time this year," Fluri said. "The kids love it and can't wait to do more."