Maybe Alice Is Right 

To get kids eating vegetables, get them into a garden.

It's weird hanging out at a place geared to kids when you don't have any yourself. Take, for instance, the Little Farm at Berkeley's Tilden Park, an actual working farm with cows, goats, chickens, and a very fat pig. On a cold recent Saturday, families tromped through the mud and checked out the farm animals. And then there was Food Fetish, the lone childless adult weirdo.

There was half an hour to kill before the start of Kids' Garden Club, and Food Fetish stuck out like a stripper at a child's birthday party. Having tried but failed to rustle up some kids for the day, Food Fetish must have seemed strange to the other grownups.

Cows mooed, and did their cud thing. Goats looked around for cans to eat. Kids were enamored of the pig and loudly oinked at her, except for one confused kid desperately making chicken noises. Meanwhile, the chickens gazed warily at the exuberant kids trying to make friends. One well-meaning child even attempted to reinsert a lost tail feather into the backside of an annoyed hen.

Finally, it was 2 p.m. and the Kids' Garden Club was about to start. That day's class featured only three children: Rebecca, Ted, and Lisa. "I'd really like to see more kids come to the club," explained Gina Gardano, the young teacher of the club, which caters to eight-to-twelve-year-olds. "The problem is that I don't think a lot of parents know it exists. It's a lot more fun when there's more kids." The program has been around for about two years, but most of the people who know about it apparently are already regulars of Tilden Park.

Gina and her friendly assistant, Maya, led everyone to the garden, a plot of land a few yards away from the Little Farm barn. It smelled like waterlogged earth, though a slight aroma of animal poo also wafted over from the barn. It was nice to smell nonurban smells for a change.

"Today is demolition day," Gina announced. "That means we're going to remove a garden bed, do some transplanting, and put in some wood chips." It seemed like a lot of work, but isn't that why families who live on farms have tons of kids in the first place? Free labor.

Happily, the kids were still young enough to think of farm chores as a novelty. Most teenagers would have seen right through that ruse in a second. The kids looked thrilled when they heard the word "demolition." Every child loves wrecking stuff, especially when it's on purpose and has been okayed by grownups.

The kids had already planted lots of things at previous Garden Club meetings: there were garlic, wheat, lavender, kale, and strawberries.

"Okay, we're going to transplant this big sage plant into another flower bed," Gina said. "Actually, it's called 'salvia,'" corrected Ted, a very bright little boy who knew the Latin names for many of the plants.

The kids set about wrecking the flower bed. They sawed and kicked and pulled at the wooden bed, and when that got boring, the girls took a break to visit with the cows, who seemed sort of lonely. With the help of Ted's dad, who basically did all the work because the idea of a lonesome cow failed to distract him from the task at hand, the flower bed was demolished in no time. Then Maya found a few old potatoes from last year's crop. That was exciting as all get-out. The kids were flushed, happy, and hungry from destroying stuff.

Finally, it was time to do some cooking. Vegetable stew was on the menu for that day. Everyone trudged back to the Nature Area. It took a while to get there due to the puddles and big piles of fresh mud to step in on the way back. After a few minutes of stomping, everyone went into the auditorium.

The kids gleefully chopped up store-bought potatoes and carrots into big awkward chunks. Then everyone talked about vegetables. These kids had impressive palates, without a picky eater among them. Maybe it's because they were from Berkeley, and grew up shopping at the Berkeley Bowl. In any case, none of the children seemed scared of the idea of brussels sprouts, and no one shrieked or pretended to barf when a bunch of bright green kale from the garden was added to the pot.

"I like every kind of vegetable there is," Rebecca proclaimed. "Guess what?" Lisa confided. "I really like lemons."

The stew took a while to cook. Meanwhile, the kids did art, which entailed squirting a huge amount of paint on a piece of paper, folding it over, smashing the paint into the paper, and then opening it to see what kind of design was there. It was really messy and thus fun.

But everyone was also really hungry. "When is the stew going to be ready?" they asked. Ted's dad patiently tried to explain the concept of the watched pot not boiling, but it didn't really register.

When the stew was ready, everyone got a little cup. The parents who came to pick up kids also had a little taste. Someone decided it was the best soup he or she had ever had in their entire life. And it probably was.


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