Field of greens: Bethalto UMC gives youth club a lesson in gardening


“If you plant it, they will come.”

A group of volunteers from the United Methodist Church in Bethalto pursued a different field of dreams this summer in the backyard of the church property.

Rev. Bill Pyatt’s vision was to offer a community garden project to be used by the children attending the Bethalto Boys and Girls Club during their summer camp sessions. The church would offer positive adult mentors to engage kids in a fun, hands-on experience of gardening.

Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Kathy Wilson said the conversation began when she and Pyatt, both Kiwanis Club members, started talking about ways the church could help the club, and the idea of a garden came up.

“It was just a perfect opportunity for our kids, most of which had never gardened, much less seen the food-to-table experience,” Wilson said.

The gardening program ran from the beginning June until the end of July. Groups of Boys and Girls Club members would walk to the church backyard each day, Monday through Thursday, and work for approximately 45 minutes on a rotation determined by the club’s staff. On Fridays, the club took the kids on out-of-town field trips.

The primary objectives, Pyatt said, were to teach club members about gardening, including prepping the ground, planting, tending, and harvesting; teach responsibility for the care and nurturing of a garden; engage the boys and girls in seeing what will grow best for them, including the life cycle of various plants; improve club members’ knowledge of healthy eating habits and good nutrition by incorporating a nutrition education component focused on garden vegetables and snack/meal preparation; and establish caring relationships between the youth and church volunteers.

The Boys and Girls Club staff developed a mutually agreed upon schedule for gardening activities. Each day the kids, chaperoned by staff, walked the short distance over to the church backyard. The staff remained to assist with supervision of kids. Staff also provided curricula for a nutrition education component, Triple Play Healthy Habits.

The church provided adults to educate the kids on gardening. They worked alongside the kids throughout the gardening process and engaged them in fun activities while working together. The church also provides the necessary tools and resources — the garden plot, garden tools, water, and so on.

In late May, Head Gardener Gerald Eberhart, along with Alex Harmon, tilled up two plots of garden in the backyard of the church and set out tomato, green bean, and pepper plants, and planted onions, beets and lettuce.

The kids from Bethalto Boys and Girls Club began coming when their summer session started on June 3. Sixty-five children, ages six to twelve, and nine staff from Bethalto club engaged in hands-on work in the garden for eight weeks. They pulled weeds, planted and tended cucumbers, zucchini squash, several varieties of tomatoes, green beans, onions, lettuce, green and hot peppers, eggplant, and beets.

In late June, the group added an herb section, growing parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, dill, sweet basil, and oregano.

Starting in mid-July when the garden began to produce, the kids were able to pick and take home some vegetables. The church also sponsored a Garden Party on three Wednesday evenings, where they invited the kids to bring a family member to see the garden, pick some veggies and enjoy a free ice cream treat.

While planting and nurturing the growth of the garden provided endless educational opportunities, Wilson said the kids most enjoyed seeing the fruits — or rather, vegetables — of their labor.

“It was harvesting that was the highlight. When you saw pictures of them with a huge eggplant or giant zucchinis, they were just as proud as could be,” Wilson said. “They came back talking about it and wanted to figure out, ‘What are these for, what are they used for?’

“We also had somebody doing cooking classes that could incorporate the food they bought back into the cooking experience.”

The summer program for the Boys and Girls Club ended on July 26.
“It’s been hard to tell who’s been having the most fun, the adults or the kids,” Pyatt said, “but we can say that this adventure in our field of dreams has been a big success. “

(Reprinted with permission from the Sept. 8 issue of the Alton Telegraph,  

By Nathan Grimm
Photo by Nathan Grimm, Alton Telegraph