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Tribe now helps 111 centers with Learn to Grow gardens

STILWELL – Toddlers and preschoolers at the Cherokee Nation Child Development Center in Stilwell now have new gardens, fresh soil and cages to grow tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, okra and cucumbers.

Adair County becomes the sixth county in the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county tribal jurisdiction to implement the tribe’s Learn to Grow program for daycares and home provider facilities serving Cherokee children.

More than 3,300 children tend gardens across the Cherokee Nation. The nine additional facilities added in Adair County bring the number of centers with gardens to 111.

Last fall, the nutrition program got the attention of the White House when the Cherokee Nation was commended by first lady Michelle Obama. In a letter, she thanked the Cherokee Nation for promoting the health and wellness of its citizens through the Learn to Grow project.

“If we can teach these young kids that playing in the dirt is not only fun, but can also yield healthy and nutritious food, then that is a wonderful lesson,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, of Stilwell. “There’s a saying that I like: ‘Being on my knees and digging in the garden dirt brings me closer to God.’ Cherokee Nation’s Learn to Grow effort has so many lifelong benefits for our young and impressionable citizens that can help nourish them in body and soul.”

The Learn to Grow garden initiative teaches daycare providers to set higher nutrition values for children. It also encourages students to get outdoors and become interested in gardening and healthier eating.

All Learn to Grow project facilities receive training, two garden beds full of soil and multiple varieties of seeds, including summer and fall vegetables. Once ripe, the providers use the produce to prepare meals for the children.

“The Learn to Grow project is in its third year, and it is so exciting to see the children in their gardens,” said Cherokee Nation’s Learn to Grow Project Coordinator Lisa Evans. “There is so much research that shows the health benefits the children are gaining from the gardening experience, while also increasing the likelihood of healthier eating now and in future for our children throughout Cherokee Nation.”

The Child Development Center in Stilwell serves up to 90 children in summer months.

Cherokee Nation partners with Oklahoma State University Extension Office, Department of Human Services Child Care Licensing, Native American Association of Ketchum and several other groups for the Learn to Grow initiative. For more information, contact Lisa Evans at 918-253-4219.

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