A group of Master Gardeners under the leadership of Claudia Kunath has started an education program at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center which is already reaping huge benefits.  Spearheaded by Master Gardener Claudia Kunath, a group of 11 women visit the childcare center regularly, offering educational presentations, hands-on learning activities and advice about nutrition to the children, who range in age from 2 – 6.  The New Jersey Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who assist the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension in its mission to deliver horticulture programs and information to the general public.

“Our goal is to provide experiences with nature and gardens for the children with a focus on growing vegetables and their nutritional value.  The children get experience with growing the plants and eating the vegetables,” explained Claudia Kunath, the Team Leader for the Master Gardeners for Little Sprouts.  The group recently taught lessons on growing peas and carrots.  “It’s amazing to see the surprised looks on their faces.  They have no idea how vegetables grow. They were shocked.  It was just adorable!”

The Master Gardeners group took root at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center in part because of the availability of a vegetable garden on the Project Self-Sufficiency campus, where the childcare center is located.  Many of the women involved in the Master Gardeners for Little Sprouts program also volunteer as gardeners for the agency’s vegetable garden during the spring and summer months.  The vegetable garden at Project Self-Sufficiency has been such a success that two additional plots are being added this spring.

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“The garden at Project Self-Sufficiency is a blessing to the low-income families served by Project Self-Sufficiency,” commented Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “This garden was donated by Frances Gould Naftal and is cultivated throughout the spring and summer by our volunteer Garden Committee, one of whom is on the site almost every day to harvest fresh vegetables for our participants.  Not only is there fresh produce available every day, but the group often provides recipes for the adults and hands-on lessons for the children about how to use the vegetables in their everyday diet.  The Master Gardeners program at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center is a wonderful example of how one gift can blossom into an entire educational program which will have benefits for years to come.”

The Master Gardeners who are involved with the education program at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center include Ann Bain, Maureen Blandino, Andrea Clark, Mary Kissane, Marge Klein, Marie Nazzaro, Cynthia Rauth, Karen Shulte, Vicky Turner, and Bonnie White.  The group’s next outing in May will focus on how dirt is created and will feature a puppeteer and a worm bin.  Kids will be invited to play in the dirt, learn how worms contribute to the creation of soil and have a worm race, according to Claudia.  “We really love what we do at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center, and are thankful for the opportunity to expose the children to the world of plants, understand how they benefit us, and what our responsibilities are to care for them.”

The Little Sprouts Early Learning Center is located on the Project Self-Sufficiency campus at 127 Mill Street in Newton.  The childcare center offers space for 83 youngsters, ages 6 weeks to 6 years, and accepts all types of subsidized daycare assistance.  Slots for new students are available.  For more information visit the center’s website www.littlesproutsearlylearningcenter.org or call 973-940-3540. 

To learn more about the programs and services offered at Project Self-Sufficiency, visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org or call 973-940-3500.