The Lorax Garden: Augusta and El Dorado Head Start Centers

lorax garden“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Building on their annual Green Eggs & Ham literacy event, the Augusta and El Dorado Head Start Centers, both affiliated with Child Start Inc. in Butler County Kansas, expanded their Dr. Seuss connections this spring by building Lorax Gardens to teach students about healthy foods and the importance of respecting their environment through practical, hands-on experiences.

“The purpose of this garden program is to supplement our nutrition services and instill healthy habits among Head Start children and families,” shares Nutrition Coordinator Andrew Hodgson. “Parent engagement activities were also offered to provide families with the necessary knowledge and support to start home gardens and eat healthier diets with plenty of produce. This approach will ensure that Head Start children are exposed to gardening and healthy produce in both the school and home environments which will increase the likelihood of instilling these practices as habit.” By incorporating age-appropriate engagement strategies and linking the garden with the whimsy of Dr. Seuss, they strive to create a program that is both fun and effective.

After receiving a 2018 Youth Garden Grant Award, each center kicked off their garden programs with a reading of The Lorax at their Green Eggs & Ham event and a discussion with students about how they can care for their environment.  Both centers installed four raised beds and with the help of families, planted lavender, marigolds, carrots, cucumbers, watermelons, strawberries, different types of tomatoes, and different types of basil. Plant selection focused on including a variety of different shapes, sizes, colors and scents to create a diversity of experiences for children. In addition to trying to replicate the bright colors found in the book, they also installed strawberry garden towers to represent the Truffula Tree.

Andrew has received positive comments about the program from kids, teachers and parents with many saying they started gardens at home too because the kids were enjoying the garden so much at school. “At the Augusta Head Start Center, the kids and staff successfully grew one watermelon that ripened in time to be served on the last day of school.” What a very sweet reward!

“Tying the garden to the already reoccurring Green Eggs & Ham event presents a unique platform from which to launch the garden program and ensure its continuance year after year. Additionally, we recently shifted to a year-round schedule so there is only be a three-week period during the summer months in which children will not be at the Head Start centers.” The garden also benefited from connections made with local community organizations including the United Way of El Dorado and the Butler County Conservation District. In addition to help recruiting volunteers, they received in-kind donations of two 225-gallon water containers and gutters to build rain barrels, which further emphasize the messages of conservation and sustainability to children and their families.

Although they had some challenges maintaining their strawberry plants in the towers and plan to substitute hardier flowering plants next year, Andrew reports that this initial year of gardening provided a lot of opportunities. In addition to tasting experiences at each center, they had enough tomatoes and basil to send some home with families, too, and offered parent meetings to demonstrate different ways to cook with them.  Based on this initial success, both centers plan to expand their garden programs next year.