"Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?"
For this group of Port Chester kids, it's in their own backyard.
The fascination with food started out when children from the Carver Center became pen pals with kids from Kenya. The Port Chester kids were surprised to learn their new friends in Africa didn't accompany their parents to wide-laned superstores where almost everything is available year-round.
Instead, they grow it, milk it, or harvest it themselves.
"The Kenyan children told them, 'We got our meat from the cow, our tomatoes from the garden'," said Janett Grose, director of the children's program. "We wanted our children to say the same thing."
Staff at the Carver Center saw the youthful revelation as an opportunity to give the kids a hands-on lesson -- not only about nutrition, butwhere their food comes from and how it arrives on their plates.
So they decided to clear space behind the Carver Center building, taking up shovels and soil bags with kids, parents and neighbors to create a fertile patch amid concrete and brick.
They started small in May of 2009, planting a few cucumber seeds. Today, the garden is a verdant plot growing thick with zucchini, tomatoes, squash and several different types of herbs. Like their pen pals in Kenya, the Port Chester kids are learning not only how to plant vegetables -- but how to cultivate, grow and harvest.
Some of the kids have even picked up environmental buzz words as they till organic soil and forgo the use of fertilizers: as he tended to the garden on Monday, David Pena said eating fresh vegetables he grew himself "is more eco-friendly" than getting the same foods from the local supermarket.
Most of the kids live in apartments or homes with limited backyard space, so the Carver Center garden gives them an opportunity they probably wouldn't have at home, said Elizabeth Cook, the center's director of development.
"The idea was to teach the kids about where food comes from," she said. "This is their chance to take care of something and grow their own food."
After the vegetables are harvested, kids can take their fresh tomatoes and cucumbers home to share with their families. Whatever's left over goes to the Carver Center's kitchen, where cooks use the freshly-picked vegetables for the lunch and dinner menus.
With August around the corner, the end of summer is in sight. But the garden won't go untended -- come fall, the kids will plant a pumpkin patch.
For more information about the vegetable garden, as well as activities in the Carver Center, contact Elizabeth Cook at 914-939-4464.