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When Jessica Colon moved to Mount Kisco about two years ago, she looked for a way to get involved in the community and indulge in her love for the outdoors.
As an educator at the New York Botanical Garden, she found a nearly perfect outlet to engage herself and local children – along with a need to head outside after being cooped up indoors for too long during the pandemic.
Colon learned of the Mount Kisco Community Garden, less than a half-acre of space on the ARC of Westchester site on Main Street in the village. It’s where she met Livia Fleming, a Bedford resident, who had been volunteering at the garden with her children, and hooked up with Allison Turcan, founder of D.I.G. Farm in North Salem, a nonprofit operation to help connect local communities with farming.
“I wanted to get out, I wanted to get my hands dirty,” recalled Colon, who is also the founder of For the People and Kids! an educational services website. “I said to Allison, ‘Why don’t we put programs here?’ She said go for it. I said, ‘Livia, you’re coming with me.’ We started developing classes here and look at what we did.”
What they did was, with the help of D.I.G. Farm, take over the garden in April from InterGenerate, which operates several community gardens in the area, and launched the Mt. Kisco Growing Academy, an outdoor classroom that introduces children to the value and the importance of growing and harvesting their own food.
Earlier this month, Colon, Fleming and Turcan began offering classes for children as young as three years old as well as provide volunteer opportunities and workshops for residents of all ages in the community.
Turcan said they collectively concluded that the site would be a great place for teaching.
“So, it’s just trying to take the model of education in the garden, the garden itself producing food, obviously, and getting kids and people involved,” Turcan said. “Connecting the community with their local food source.”
Starting the week of Sept. 12, the Mt. Kisco Growing Academy began Growing Academy Homeschooling, a five-week program to learn how seeds can become crops, how to plant to harvest and how to take care of the garden. Since Colon is bilingual, there is also a session in Spanish.
Another five-week program on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. is a class called Meals in a Jar, which helps teenagers understand how easy it can be to eat healthfully by harvesting and using fresh ingredients.
“At the end of the day, all our mission is, is to educate the community, bring the community together to show them how to grow food,” Colon said.
Then there are community volunteering days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, an art session on Friday afternoons at 4 p.m. for families with children 12 and up and a 45-minute garden yoga session at 10 a.m. on Saturdays for all ages.
Fleming said they entice parents, some of whom may not have been exposed to growing their own food as children, to get involved to make it a family experience.
“I definitely feel, especially young children can teach their parents,” Fleming said. “So, everything that grows here we try to learn (about), learn to smell it, touch it and some of them taste it.”
Everyone who participates helps share the harvest with produce to take home, she said. Any extras are donated to local food pantries.
A wide variety of crops is grown at the garden, depending on the season. Fall crops include radishes, turnips, carrots, lettuce, spinach and kale, Turcan said.
Fleming added that the Growing Academy is not only about gardening but teaching youngsters and perhaps some adults how the entire food cycle works.
They offer the five-week sessions for $100 a child to help keep costs reasonable. The academy has also started a donation board that they call the Giving Tree in hopes of receiving community donations and sponsorships to help families who may find it a struggle to pay for the programs.
Colon hopes over time to continue to increase their offerings when they return in the spring.
“We want to introduce how easy this is,” she said. “I mean it’s not easy, it’s hard work, (but) it’s easier than you can imagine and it’s a wonderful feeling when you’re able to work outside.”
For more information about the Mt. Kisco Growing Academy, visit www.westchesterlocalfood.org.