Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Town

August 23, 2010

Children's garden celebrates 10 years

TRAVERSE CITY — "Bingo, baby — big beans!"

Dan Curtiss pulsed with excitement as he pulled baby carrots and beets, and plucked a fistful of green beans. The 9-year-old is a veteran gardener nurturing his plants for the second summer in the Grand Traverse Children's Garden.

He shares one of the Children's Garden plots with classmates at the Traverse City Summer Day Camp. Curtiss delights in his few square feet of dirt, which he visits weekly with fellow campers to water, weed and harvest.

"I just like planting it and taking care of it," he said. "And looking for all the veggies, that's the best part."

Janice Curtiss learns right along with her son. He brings home basil leaves and suggests adding them to a jar of spaghetti sauce. Fresh mint leaves liven up iced tea.

"He loves fresh vegetables," said the Acme resident, who is not a gardener.

On Thursday evening, Dan and his mother joined other participants and families to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Grand Traverse Children's Garden. They listened to "The Runaway Garden," read by author Jeffrey Schatzer of Bellaire, peered through telescopes brought by Grand Traverse Astronomical Society members and enjoyed music by the Munson Hospice Harpists.

"(The Children's Garden) is a wonderful program," said Barb McIntyre, whose Munson Hospice Art Therapy program has participated for ten years. "I'm so glad we get the opportunity to be here — to be outside in nature, which is so healing."

Situated behind the Traverse Area District Library, the Grand Traverse Children's Garden brings to life a Roots to Mouth program. The garden features 15 plots and an adaptive garden plus winding paths, a gazebo, a building and a new brick pizza oven built this year. Also new this year are two new kitchen gardens with herbs.

"We have them planting, growing and eating what they're growing, which is an important part of teaching," said director Susan Kuschell, who helped launch the garden.

The Grand Traverse Children's Garden started life as a "pile of rubble," Kuschell said. The space has since been transformed into a flourishing learning environment.

"It really was just nothing, a little piece of neglected land between two railroad tracks," said Dean Conners, a co-founder and board member of the Children's Garden.

Dedicated volunteers, enthusiastic participants and ongoing library, city and community support combined to build a summer institution for area youth.

Their inspiration came from the ground up.

"The minute we opened the first garden at the library, parents and teachers and kids came up and said, 'Where can our kids get information?" said Kuschell of the avid interest in youth gardening.

Volunteers and Children's Garden interns also contribute to the program's success. Meeting with participants weekly throughout the summer, they work to instill a lifelong love of gardening.

"Just to watch them stick their fingers in the dirt, they have a ball," said volunteer Linda Verellen. "And for them to see a seed grow into a big plant is terrific, they might not have that opportunity at home."

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