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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Garden in a truck aims for picky eaters



fruits-and-veggies.jpgMy 2-year-old dismisses most vegetables with a “yuck.” Same goes for fruits, unless it’s applesauce.

But fruits and veggies grown in the bed of a truck?

Well, that might be enough to get the attention of this truck-loving, picky eater.

Truck Farm -- a garden on wheels -- is coming to Tampa, thanks to a national grant and a mom with a passion for healthy living.

Marisa Langford, a mother of three with her fourth on the way, received a “We Can” grant last month that will provide up to $10,000 for programs locally that promote nutrition and exercise. Only 18 community sites nationally got the funding. “We Can” (short for Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) is an effort through the National Institutes of Health to educate parents and prompt community change. Its three main goals are to encourage healthy eating, increase activity and reduce screen time.

Langford got to know “We Can” through her “Fit Kids Playground,” which she founded in 2009. She sets up the playground at farmer’s markets and community events, bringing together organized workouts and vendors and providing hula hoops and balls for free play. A “We Can” assistance award last year allowed her to set up a Fit Kids station outside of the Glazer Children’s Museum during their monthly discounted days.

Langford likes the “We Can” premise because of its simplicity: “Simple, small changes are how people will get themselves healthier and kids more active."

Parents are stressed and busy. Kids are stressed and busy. No one needs a complete overhaul of their eating and exercise habits only to burn out a couple days later. But a few gradual changes, Langford says, are manageable.

She put together a plan with several community partners to reach different segments of the population and came up with efforts in four major areas -- parent and child nutrition classes at two schools, updated kids' movement classes at the library, expanded Fit Kids dates outside of the museum and, of course, the truck farm.

Langford came across a Truck Farm while vacationing in Chicago. It’s just like it sounds -- there’s a bed of soil in the back of the truck and fresh produce thriving in it. The idea is with water, sun, soil and seeds you can grow anything. In anything.

It’s a novelty and grabs your attention, and it’s mobile, so Langford will be able to take her future truck to schools, markets and more. She will work with children at the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School, who will learn about how food grows and have a chance to taste what they plant.

“Truck Farm” is also a short documentary about urban agriculture, and Chipotle plans to sponsor screenings of the film in the area.

Tampa's truck, once established, will likely appear at Fit Kids events, which are also receiving support from the "We Can" grant. The activities return to Curtis Hixon park for its second year on March 6 and will wrap up Aug. 7, linked into the discounted admission those afternoons at the children's museum. Langford says attendance was highest during those months last year.

Planning for the "We Can" classroom tie-in is also underway. Children at Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School will sample foods and whip up snacks in a healthy eating curriculum Langford and Events by Amore is putting together. They want the kids, many of whom come from low-income families, to start thinking about what they eat and why and discover new fruits and vegetables they might not have tried.

At Learning Gate Community School, a charter school Langford's children attend, the lessons will be geared toward parents. They will discuss ways to increase health and wellness at their school and, Langford hopes, serve as a model for parent groups at other schools who want to start the same movement.

And at the library, Hillsborough County will receive a new curriculum Fit Kids uses to overhaul the “motion commotion” classes it now offers preschoolers. Known as “Catch,” it has lessons and activities designed to make learning about health and fitness fun for that age group. The main library branch downtown will get one curriculum set and another will circulate throughout the other library sites in the county.

Will this be enough to turn legions of picky eaters into garden gourmands? The nice thing about the plans are they tackle a lot of different areas. Your kids might not go to the two schools involved, but you could use what they’re doing to try similar lessons at your school. You can go to the library for the new “motion commotion.” You can do nothing more than play one afternoon with Fit Kids and get away from the television/iPad/Wii for a bit.

And I have high hopes for that truck.

--Courtney Cairns Pastor

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[Last modified: Sunday, February 19, 2012 9:43am]


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