Monday, August 2, 2021
Garden Grows Young Explorers' Understanding of the Natural World
Katelyn Berman shows off a beekeeper suit designed for someone between the ages of 6 and 8.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021


Katelyn Berman paused at the fish tank in the lobby of the Wood River Community YMCA and bid good morning to M2, Shorty and Boots, named for the white tips on the end of his fins.

These are the rainbow trout that made the cut when kids in the afterschool program released a hundred tiny trout into the Big Wood River after their eggs matured.

Trout farming is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Bonni's Garden, which began eight years ago with a few potted plants and has since evolved a myriad of plants grown in a greenhouse, a tiny orchard outdoors and a bee colony.

Socks the Trout says “Good morning.”

Youngsters in the Y's afterschool program love digging around in the dirt in the greenhouse during winter when four feet of snow cover the ground outside. And this summer it will be ground zero for Nature Explore camps for middle school students.

The camps, which run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. four days a week, launched last summer but have been greatly expanded. They offer youth hands-on activities with hydroponic gardening, composting, bee raising and visiting the Wood River Farmers Market.

Whoops! And don't forget the worms. Vermiculture is the star of the show.

"Kids love the worms and they love the bees," said Berman, the Y's director of agriculture. "They're naturally afraid of the bees until they learn about them. Then they see how friendly they are and they fall in love with them."

Jason Shearer checks out the roots on a plant in the hydroponic garden.

In case you're wondering, the Y has 36,000 bees. And, with 200 kids coming through the program every year, there hasn't been a single sting.

"Kids love the garden," said Berman. "They're naturally curious about their natural environment. They gain a sense of ownership when they plant something and see it come to life. Plus, they love being outside, and the greenhouse gives them a chance to play in the dirt, even in winter."

Berman paused at the hydroponic garden, which features vertical garden of peppers, tomatillos, stir-fry mix, oregano and other plants growing in white PVC pipe. Berman filled a giant syringe with liquid plant food and injected it into the water that is recycled through the pipes multiple times a day.

Next to the hydroponic garden is a more traditional garden with tomatoes growing in beds filled with dirt.

Each youngster gets to make their own fairy garden.

"We feed the vegetables a vegetable formula. Kids learn it's an efficient way of growing vegetables and it diversifies what you can do. It's also something even apartment renters can do when they don't have a yard--I know someone who has one in his office."

One girl, Astrid, is so proud of the 2-inch zucchini she's growing in a pot that she asks Berman about it every day. Others revel in the fairy gardens each builds.

"Kids love the imagination of pretending. The fairy gardens are magical," said Berman.

in addition to connecting with nature, campers read and write about what they're doing. They use economics and math to figure out cost comparisons of locally grown food versus that grown elsewhere. They assess the carbon footprint of what's grown locally compared with that which is shipped across the nation or even around the world.

Katelyn Berman shows off Astrid’s two-inch zucchini

"And they learn how fragile bees and trout are, how hard it is to raise fish and keep bees alive," said Jason Shearer, the Y's director.

Programs like this are fairly rare among Ys nationwide. All Ys are charged with programs they must provide to patrons and all are given free rein to focus on things that fit with their communities. Bonni's Garden was founded in 2016 to honor Bonni Curran following her death in a bicycle accident on Ketchum's Main Street.

"Bonni loved children and she loved growing things. And she had a desire to help children grow through healthy, whole lives," said Shearer.

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