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Kids-R-It educator Jennifer Kouame (right) and her elementary-age students show off the collected recycled water and some of the plants they are growing at the school.

Kids-R-It youths get little green thumbs

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WORTHINGTON -- Worthington's watering ban may have worried some gardeners this spring, but not the staff and students at Kids-R-It Child Care Center.

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Instead, with a bit of recycling and repurposing, students have been able to learn about healthy eating and conservation with the child care center's garden. Kid-R-It has had a garden in the past, but it had been a couple years since one had been planted when Jennifer Kouame started working at the center last year.

"I thought, 'They have all this garden space. I spend all my time here anyway and I can't have one at home,' so I guess I started it kind of out of selfish reasons," Kouame said with a laugh.

After the success of last year's garden, Kouame started making plans for another this year.

"I was planning out the garden and thought it'd be good to teach the kids about vitamins and exercise, too, and taking care of the earth and taking care of plants and the garden," she said.

A wide variety of vegetables were planted this spring, including carrots, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers and celery. Kouame also planted a variety of vining flowers, but she said they have been slow to start this summer because of the cool weather. The garden is split between a standard garden plot and plants that were potted after their donation by Hy-Vee.

When Worthington implemented its watering ban, Kouame got creative and started researching her options. She started by buying biodegradable soap that was financially comparable to what the child care center had previously been using.

"Then I bought some rubber tubing, like what you use in a fish tank, and taped it to the sink to catch the water," she explained. "Now all the water the kids use when they wash their hands goes into empty milk jugs and then used in the garden."

So far, Kouame said she has been able to rely on the recycled water and only had to use a hose to water the garden once.

"Today all of our containers were full, so I let the water go down the sink. All the kids were like, 'Oh no! We're wasting water!'" Kouame said.

The project has been a hands-on experience for the students, who regularly help with the weeding and the watering -- although Kouame said she learned last year that it's better to let the teachers do the planting.

The produce grown at Kids-R-It will be used for snacks for the 116 students enrolled at the facility.

"If we get a lot, we might sell some at the thrift store or the farmers' market, but for the most part, my family and the staff eat whatever we don't eat at school," Kouame said.

Kouame, though, didn't want to stop with just a garden. Kids-R-It also has begun a compost for leftover food scraps and paper products.

"We had an old toy box that kept breaking so we put it in the garden and have been composting all the leftover food -- except for meat and bones," Kouame said.

To reduce even more, the staff set a goal of one bag of garbage per day per classroom.

"We used to have more garbage, but we've gotten really close to that goal," Kouame said. "Of course, some days there is more with arts and crafts."

Kouame said the parents and staff has been enthusiastic and supportive of the efforts.

"From when I started, everyone went along with it really well," she said. "We haven't had any conflict."

This fall, Kouame is looking forward to seeing the success of the program and said believes that the water bill will show the positive effect that the water conservation had.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

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Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at http://throughthelookingglass.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7322
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