When it came to bringing nutrition awareness to children, women of the Oak Park and River Forest Community Foundation Leadership group weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

The program sponsored the creation of a community garden at Forest Park’s Kangaroo Corner daycare center in the 900 block of Beloit on Saturday, May 4.

“I’m excited,” said “Miss Suzanne” Logan who has run the daycare — serving ages 15 months to third grade — for 35 years. “Children need to recognize fresh fruits and vegetables and see how things grow.”

The “From Seed to Sprouts” program was developed by Faith Cole, Colleen Dedecker, Shanon Williams and Ellen Winter, all students in the Dominican University Leadership Program offered through the foundation.

The 10 x 8 foot L-shaped raised bed was constructed by Seamus Ford of Root Riot, an urban gardening cooperative located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Root Riot has constructed the 70-bed Harambee gardens at 500 N. Waller in Austin, which include urban beehives and paddocks for seven goats. They have also built around 30 beds at an empty parcel at 838 Madison St. in Oak Park and at the Forest Park Montessori School.

Ford crafted the garden plot with untreated spruce planks, fastened with 3-inch deck screws. He then lined the bed with black weed fabric. Using wheelbarrows and spades, mothers, dads and kids helped fill the garden bed with a combination of top soil and compost that had been specially delivered.

Children planted eight Beefmaster tomato plants. Seeds for carrots and snap peas would be planted later by the daycare children during the week, Logan said.

“Our idea is to teach kids their own gardening in a smaller scale so they appreciate what they plant and are more likely to eat it,” Winter said. Her daughter, Camila, attends Kangaroo Corner.

“The last process of our project is to create a mapping system including all the daycares and preschools in the area to manage a collaborative system to keep the food at low cost, fresh and easily distributed to the kids,” Winter said. “I know most of the daycares are concerned with the cost of the food if it is fresh or organic.”

Over 35 years, Logan said she’s seen many changes in family lifestyles that contribute to childhood obesity and poor nutrition. Part of the change has been a reliance on fast food and the tendency to skip family meals together.

“We are required by DCFS to serve only family-style meals,” she said. “Kids eat sitting down at a table and we teach conversation.” She said outside the daycare some of her charges eat sit-down dinners “at Thanksgiving and that’s about it, the kids say.”

Logan also blames not enough recess in school.

“We’re so lucky we have the park right down the street, so kids can get some exercise,” Logan said.

Harried parents have “horrible commutes” and end up eating dinner “in the car because the kids are so hungry,” Logan said.

Logan said she’s also noticed over the years that the presence of certain “kid-friendly” foods – chicken nuggets being the main culprits – will crowd out a child’s taste for other foods offered at the same time.

“We offer [children] a small amount of a vegetable and we call it a ‘hello bite,'” Logan said.

“Serving, eating together and talking to each other about the day, that’s part of our curriculum. We want to expose the kids to more fruits and vegetables so they acquire a taste for them,” Logan added.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...