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At Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club students learn about healthy cooking and gardening

Posted by Patrick Rosso  May 16, 2013 02:45 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

Iyanie Jackson, 10, prepares vegetables for the club's tasting.

Something is sprouting at the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club on Talbot Avenue and the youth members are learning to cook it.

The center’s Garden Club is going strong this spring as local students learn everything they need to know about nutrition, gardening, and healthy food options.

“The program has really helped create an awareness and a buzz around healthy lifestyles,” said Kelly Pielech, the club’s wellness coordinator and education director. “We’re always trying to get more kids included and it has been extremely popular.”

The youth who take part in the Wednesday afternoon program range in age from eight to 12 and learn everything they need to know about veggies and fruits, from how to grow them to how to cook them for their families.

“This club is fun because you get to dig in the dirt, get messy, and can make mistakes,” said Janaya Chambliss, an eight-year-old club member. “I wish gardening club was open every day.”

Although the program and the center’s raised bed gardens have been around for three-years, it has really taken off in the last year with the help of Stephanie Simmons, a Food Corps volunteer with the Food Project, a partner with the club.

“Our goal is to change the ways kids see fresh and healthy foods, and make them more accessible,” said Simmons. “We have an obesity and health epidemic with our kids and this is a way to combat it.”

On Wednesday Simmons and a group of about 10 students were busy learning about onions, why they’re healthy, and how exactly you cook them.

Using both hands-on instruction and a little bit of science, Simmons explained the benefits of the onions as she caramelized them in a skillet, giving the youth a chance to sample something they may one day cook for their families.

“I’ve learned a lot about herbs and vegetables,” explained Berniesha Anglin, an 11-year-old club member. “I know how to grow them, cook them; it’s a lot of fun.”

The students throughout the year will tend to their gardens that line the back of the club. Growing garlic, strawberries, lettuce, onions, and other delectable plants, they will be in charge of making sure the vegetables get grown and eaten.

“It’s my favorite program because we get to plant, cook, and learn,” said Skye Millor Hammond, a nine-year-old club member. “I found out about a lot of things I didn’t know.”

The program also gives the students a chance to work in a garden, something that isn’t always readily available especially in the urban neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattapan, where yard space is at a premium.

“When I learned how to garden I was amazed,” said Jordan Wells, a nine-year-old club member. “I didn’t know how to garden, my grandmother does, but she didn’t tell me how much fun it is.”

The youth will learn many of the aspects of gardening, but instilling an interest in healthy lifestyles is also the major focus.

“We want to reverse the trend of unhealthy eating and processed foods,” said Simmons. “It’s especially helpful when you reach them at this age because it’s easier for them to form healthy habits.”

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

Stephanie Simmons working with the youth members.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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