From the Executive Director: A new journey begins

Beginning with my first garden build at South Dover Elementary and participating in my first planting lesson at Sussex Montessori School, this year has been POWERFUL!

When I first joined Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids in February 2021, I thought I understood what I was undertaking. I had been an Executive Director before. I know what it is like to sit in a board room and prepare the quarterly financials for review. I have organized well over a hundred events and welcomed dignitaries from across the globe, but nothing prepared me for life-changing experience that is Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids.

I am blessed by the fact gardening has always been a part of my life. Growing up on a small farmette in Berks County, Pennsylvania, some of my first memories are of shelling peas with my mother, grandmother and sister, sitting on our porch swing and trying not to eat more than we saved. Beans from our garden were blanched and frozen for the winter and our tomatoes were turned to puree with the 1935 WearEver food mill my great grandfather sold door-to-door (which I still use today!) in between teaching at Kutztown Elementary School.

When COVID-19 hit and the world was forced upside down, my previous work in international economic development came to a screeching stand-still as airports shuttered and boarders closed. The needs within our communities boiled to the very top and spilt over, forcing all of us to really see that which we had, at times, very comfortably ignored. Food lines stretching for miles, farmers dumping fresh milk, children facing depression on a scale never-before seen. It has affected all of us.

But as Audrey Hepburn is known to have said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” and no truer words are felt than when we begin working with the children across all our schools. The absolute JOY these students bring when they come to the garden is beautiful to witness and suddenly, you see hope spreading.

One 5th grade student stated “Gardening is fun because you get a lot of exercise and you can see a lot of plants grow.” A 4th grade student commented that he enjoyed having a garden because “you get to watch the process of the plants growing.”

It’s a reminder that often times, we adults lose our curiosity and we forget the value of living life with a learning mind. Spend some time with students in a garden, and you will no doubt be renewed with a goodness that only grows. Take it from me, it is transformative.

Looking forward to 2022, we are planning for new gardens at several schools in both New Castle and Sussex Counties as well as three garden rebuilds. But program expansion is not our only goal. As we grow our reach, we also need to strengthen the organizational infrastructure to support new hires, diversify our revenue streams and increase our capacity building for continued sustainability.

If you are interested in joining this journey, inspiring healthier lives by providing youth with joyful school gardening experiences, come volunteer with us for a day. And if you like that, maybe you can play an even greater role by joining the board. Our work is just getting started. I hope to see you along the way.

– Lydia M. Sarson

Executive Director, HFHK

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