Happy Hollow youth gardening program aims to teach healthy living, create community pride

Chili peppers, pumpkins and herbs will soon grow at the Happy Hollow Recreation Center courtesy of a gardening-and-greening program that the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation launched Tuesday at Wayne and Logan streets in Germantown.

The program, which aims to teach youths how to garden and about better nutrition, makes Happy Hollow one of three new gardens to take root this summer (West Philadelphia’s Lee Cultural Center and Northeast Philadelphia’s Max Myers Playground are the others).

Michael DiBerardinis, the city’s deputy mayor for Environmental and Community Resources, was in Germantown for the launch of a program funded by Parks & Recreation and the Penn State Extension 4-H Program. That support will cover the purchase of gardening necessities like hoses, shovels, seeds and soil.

DiBerardinis cited access to water and ample property space for a garden as reasons Happy Hollow was selected. Community interest at the playground led him to believe the effort will be successful here, he said.

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“We want to have a positive impact,” said DiBerardinis. “We’re teaching the kids how to nurture things. We want to influence healthy living.”

Penn State pitches in

The Penn State Extension Philadelphia Master Gardeners and 4-H will assign staffers to the six sites through the summer to, among other things, help create a sustainable environment in the gardens while providing lessons to last for years to come. (The additional three sites are existing gardens throughout the city).

Jackie Simon, master gardener and 4-H educator, said she hopes participating children will become community ambassadors for healthy living.

“We’ll teach them everything about gardening and about the nutritional value of vegetables,” said Simon. “We want to encourage them.”

Happy Hollow gears up for gardening

When Tyrone Gross, facility supervisor at Happy Hollow, heard about the idea to have a garden, he was glad the center would be “going green” while giving children an opportunity to participate in something besides sports.

“We have a lot of at-risk kids here; they attend our after-school programs and summer camps,” said Gross. “We have kids here every day that will be involved.”

The vision for the garden, which is not yet set up, includes fencing around a 25 feet by 25 feet parcel along the recreation center’s side wall. There, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans, peppers, basil and various herbs will be grown.

Children will take produce home with them, said Gross, who noted he would like to eventually host a Happy Hollow Farmers Market. However, with plans to build raised beds outside delayed, a temporary indoor nursing station was set up Tuesday.

Bryan Robinson, president of the advisory council at Happy Hollow, said the program will teach young people about responsibility in their community.

“My hope is that it will instill a sense of responsibility in them, to the environment and to its beauty,” said Robinson. “We want to instill a sense of pride in being from Germantown. We want them to be proud of their neighborhood. A sense of responsibility is what makes a neighborhood great.”

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