It’s no surprise to most that in this fast-paced, fast food, always-on-the-go world we live in, children are no longer exposed to garden-fresh fruits and vegetables – especially ones grown in their own home or community. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nine out of ten children didn’t eat enough vegetables from 2007-2010.
“We felt very strongly that an initiative to teach children about gardening and nutrition should be at the top of our list.,” says Gerri Chasko, Director of the Eureka Community Initiative (ECI). “The Little Sprouts Program is one of my favorite projects, and we are very proud of both the results.”
Two elementary schools are involved in the Little Sprouts Program, Virgin Valley Elementary School (VVES) in Mesquite, and Joseph L. Bowler Elementary School in Bunkerville. Each school has six 8’x 6’ plots, one for each grade, kindergarten through fifth grade. The planter boxes can hold up to 80 plants each, and each grade is responsible for their plants. Some plants are started in a pollinator garden grown from seed, while other plants come from starters. Outside of the hands-on work in the gardens, an entire curriculum is also in place. The gardens are overseen by Master Gardener, Bob Chasko who maintains the sprinkler and irrigation systems and overall health of the gardens.
Partners for the project are Green Our Planet (GOP) for Virgin Valley Elementary School and the Nevada CO-OP extension and 4-H for Joseph L. Bowler Elementary School, who are also assisted by the local high school FFA (Future Farmers of America). Bank of Nevada is a financial and educational partner.
A highlight of the gardening program for several students and instructors from VVES was a trip to the Children’s Farmer’s Market in Las Vegas. Hosted by GOP and Bank of Nevada, young gardeners from all over Clark County come together to sell their produce and garden related arts and crafts. In preparation for the event, the fifth grade curriculum includes the Farmpreneur program, where the students create a business out of their garden. Dan Wright, Senior Vice President at Bank of Nevada conducted classes that taught the students the importance of saving, needs versus wants, and how to develop a business plan.
The trip to the Market was worth all the preparation. Lauren Abbott, VVES garden coordinator commented, “Our students have loved the garden from kindergarten all the way up. They have learned how some of their food grows, what is healthy to eat, how to remove pests without harmful chemicals, what happens if you plant too many seeds together, and many other facts. They have learned responsibility and what it takes to keep a garden healthy. My third grade class had so much fun showing off their radishes and carrots earlier this year. I was amazed at how many students love radishes. Next year, we plan to extend our garden activities and increase our curriculum use in the garden. Attending the Farmer’s Market in Las Vegas last week has us excited to hold a local market next fall. We are grateful for the Eureka and all other sponsors who help us with our garden experience. It has truly been a blessing.”
Although the Little Sprouts Program is still in its early years, a great deal has been accomplished. Each school started out with six planter boxes, one for each grade, thanks to funding from the ECI and local donations. In addition, Las Vegas men’s group Los Vaqueros, received a grant to build hydroponic gardens for local schools. Eureka Executive and Los Vaqueros member, Alex Koch made sure that one was donated to Mesquite. Each school is also working towards creating outdoor classrooms and fruit orchards. They look to community donors in order to achieve their goals. Initial cost of the project was approximately $20,000, with yearly costs averaging about $5,000. Donations to help the Little Sprouts project grow are always welcome and are tax deductible. For more information, contact Gerri Chasko, Director of the Eureka Community Initiative at (702) 345-4726, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eureka Community Initiative was formed in 2012, and has sponsored and collaborated on over fifty initiatives with the Mesquite community. ECI is a direct result of the desire to find solutions to problems and the will to help people realize their full potential. The Eureka is the only 100% employee-owned hotel-casino in Nevada. Located in Mesquite, Eureka has sought to provide value as a member of the community since building the resort in the early 1990s. Eureka employee owners are invested in creative collaboration to provide measurable impacts in our core areas of focus including education, citizenship, outreach and economic development.