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--- Issued June 21
“Don’t just eat your vegetables. Grow them too.” That’s the message 12 children from Erie Heights have been learning since last fall in a program run by Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force with the cooperation and sponsorship of the Housing Authority, the YMCA, the Erie County Health department, Highmark, and the Erie County Master Gardeners of the Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Earth Force held a press conference at the Earth Force Garden at Erie Heights, near the 4100 block of Crestmont Avenue, on Monday, July 2, to show the public the “fruits” (newly grown vegetables, actually) of this message.

The garden grown by the HACE youth is total organic – grown not with pesticides or man-made fertilizer, but peat moss to keep down the weeds and compost for organic fertilizer.

“Our goal was to get the kids into gardening, show them the miracle of life as it grows from seed to plant, and to teach them the importance of nutrition and good food,” says Bill Bartlett, Earth Force educator.

“Having them experience the healthy physical activity associated with gardening is also important,” Bartlett says. “This program brought together all four of these goals.”

The program began last fall, when some of the youths were trained in gardening at the YMCA library at Erie Heights by Erie County Master gardeners, who taught how to grow gardens organically and everything from the bugs that eat plants to helping promote the bats that eat the bugs.

That training went on from October through February. In March, construction of the 3-foot by 10-foot raised bed garden was begun, with planting started on June 11.

“The kids will be harvesting corn, tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce, basil, and carrots from July through the fall,” says Bartlett.

The importance of vegetables in the American diet to combat obesity and heart disease was stressed with the youths, says Bartlett.

Earth Force engages young people as active citizens to improve the environment and their communities now and in the future.

It does so by training and supporting educators in programs that enable young people to lead community action projects focused on creating sustainable solutions to local environment issues in the community.

Above Photo: Hace residents water tend their garden with help from mentors.

Top Photo: Erie Heights residents in the Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force after school program prepare their garden with the help of Bill Bartlett amd Kim Beers, health educator from the Erie County Department of Health.