A garden of vegetables – zuchinni, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers – is growing in Clarkston, with help from a new crop of gardeners: foster kids.

The 16 boys and girls, who live at a home operated by Positive Growth Inc. on Ponce de Leon Avenue, got help on June 22 from Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority interns to build two raised beds and plant the vegetables.  

The interns helped the kids prepare the soil for planting and showed them the importance of building healthy eating habits.

For many, planting anything – and in particular, food – was a novel idea.

Roberto, who recently arrived at the foster home, never thought something this interesting would happen.

“It’s my first time doing it and it’s good so far,” he said while playing in the dirt.

Rose Arnold, Positive Growth Inc.’s director, said good nutrition is not top of the list for a lot of children in foster care and that it was good to expose them to gardening.

“Letting them see and feel and touch the process of the growth of food, not just the fact that you can go to the store and pick it up,” she said.

The Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, which owns Grady Health System, said the primary focus of the project helped to identify, prevent, and educate youth on health disparities because malnutrition, lack of prenatal care, violence, and other adversities make adolescents more susceptible to mental and physical illnesses.

FDHA points out that children in foster care are 1.5 times more likely to develop a chronic disease and that at least 35 percent of them suffer from poor mental health.

During the weeklong G.R.O.W. initiative – Growing Renewable Opportunities for Wellness – stakeholders and participating members also taught the children about nutrition and gardening, and explained why fruits and vegetables are healthy, and why weeds are bad for gardens. They introduced the kids to gardening tools, taught them what proper soil for growing looks like, and showed them how to take care of their garden.

FDHA health educator Sherard Polite said the efforts of the foster children and interns were well-received.

“Science has proven that gardening allows people to live longer and reduce stress," he said. "So it’ll be a great thing for them.”

Polite said that G.R.O.W., which evolved from the FDHA’s Michael R. Hollis Internship program, is a way to meet the children where they are.

The internship, which takes place every school semester, offers university, college or vocational/technical school students and a graduate student the opportunity to work on a group project involving HIV, diabetes, stroke, heart health or access to care. It is named for the late Grady board trustee member who left a legacy of innovation, public service, and commitment to health care for all persons, particularly the indigent.

This is the first time it has focused on children in foster care.

Jared Wilson, an intern and a rising senior at Georgia Gwinnett College, said with the price of groceries on the rise, they felt gardening was a good and useful skill to impart to children.   

“I wasn’t sure [the foster kids] wanted to do gardening,” he said. “Then we reached out to Mrs. Arnold and she thought it would be a wonderful idea.”

Beverly Burks, FDHA Community Outreach director, said she hopes that G.R.O.W will get the kids to reconnect with nature, among other things.

“I hope that this will give them peace and harmony with all the strife in their life,” she said.