NORTH TAMPA — Three-year-old Adiyah Jones, in her pretty dress and sparkly shoes, really liked digging in the dirt. But she didn't understand that the green, weedy-looking things she planted would soon yield food.
"That's nasty," she said, at the prospect of eating something from the plants.
The raised-bed garden is a Hillsborough County Extension Office project inside the playground at the North Tampa Community Head Start Center at 14013 N 22nd Ave.
Donations from Home Depot and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority helped it become reality on Oct. 3, with a dedication ceremony and children planting vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. The Head Start children were also sent home with goodie bags containing seeds to start their own gardens.
"The ultimate purpose is to teach healthy eating habits to the youth," said Stephen Gran, extension office director.
Head Start provides education and services to young children from low-income families. At the North Tampa site, there are about 130 kids enrolled in the preschool program. These children are the most at risk, studies have found. Obesity rates are highest among children living at or below the poverty level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the past 30 years, the childhood obesity rates has more than doubled and, among adolescents, the rate quadrupled, the agency said. Overweight children are more likely to be obese as adults, making them more at risk for heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer and osteoarthritis, the CDC stated.
Officials hope this small playground garden makes a large impact.
"The children will get more interested in what they eat if they grow it," Gran said.
For the next several weeks, extension office experts will give classes to the Head Start children about gardening. They want the children to know where their food comes from and learn about being self-sufficient.
"It's important children learn this at an early age," said Lynn Barber, who runs the Florida-friendly landscaping division of the extension office.
Adiyah's mom, Khylee Jones, wishes her children could have a big garden. That's how she grew up, with her mother sending her outside to pick vegetables for meals. She loved it.
"I want to teach that to my kids," said Jones, 26.
But Jones and her children are in an apartment and there's no room right now. She gets them to eat as many vegetables as they will, though it's hard when little ones have forceful opinions.
Jones tells them that vegetables make them strong, like superheroes. It helps.
Although when asked what her favorite vegetable was, Adiyah smiled and didn't skip a beat.
"Chicken!" she said.