KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Bright, beautiful blossoms. Pops of color and glistening green peppers. There are also lots of tiny tomatoes that wind up in little hands.
Six-year-old Genesis Mendoza says she thinks there are 400 tomatoes in the garden at Centro Hispano de East Tennessee.
Genesis and dozens of other Westview Elementary students enjoy learning about weeding, watering, harvesting and cooking with the tomatoes and squash grown in Centro’s gardens.
The gardens began as raised beds in 2017, then expanded to the grassy knoll next to Centro’s building. You’ll find palms, banana plants, a variety of herbs, and so many flowers: canna lilies, daylilies, coneflowers, yarrow, giant sunflowers, purple hyacinth beans, rose of Sharon, and bougainvillea.
Fourth grader Emilio Ramos is new to the after-school program. He enjoys the garden because it reminds him of home.
“Where I live, ” Emilio told us, “we have a garden. Me and my mom planted some stuff. We had cucumbers, tomatoes growing, and we had planted watermelon, but it didn’t turn out, it didn’t come out and grow.”
Kids moving to East Tennessee with their families often come from an agriculture-rich environment.
Marlene Cervantes of Centro Hispano explained, “I have kids from Mexico, from Guatemala, from Honduras, from El Salvador , they come from all over, Colombia, you name it.”
Afterschool Program Coordinator Lina Camacho studied ecology in Colombia and started with Centro as a volunteer doing environmental education with the kids; children like Jonathan Osorio who proudly showed us his contributions to the garden.
“Mostly I did the fence over there, kept things away from it, weeds and stuff like that,” he told us.
The children are finding out firsthand about the different phases of gardening depending on the season here in East Tennessee.
Last spring, they were able to make beautiful bouquets to take home for Mother’s Day.
Now, it’s almost time to prepare the gardens for fall.
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Megan Barolet-Fogarty, Director of Youth and Family Engagement at Centro, said, “this is not the most beautiful our garden always looks but that’s part of it, too. It’s part of the learning cycle the kids learn about that there’s certain seasons where the plants are growing and more beautiful and other ones where we learn about getting the garden ready for winter, so we haven’t quite moved on to that season here, still holding on to the nice weather.”
As student Pedro Gonzales Perez noticed, “the last year when I was here, the plants were little but now they growed up!”
And when the plants grow, the students learn to cook with them, already thinking about what they’d like to make fresh from the garden.
Jonathan smiled and said, “maybe tomato sauce.”