A group of girls spent Friday morning laughing with each other as they picked green beans and squash at the Ruby Wilkins Community Garden in Gainesville.
Twenty-two girls will spend six weeks this summer participating in the Newtown Florist Club girls leadership program.
The girls will spend part of their time maintaining the community garden and gathering the fruits and vegetables as they grow.
The produce can be picked up at the Newtown Florist Club for a donation.
Teacher Teresa Young said it is a valuable learning experience for the girls.
“They see how (the plants) start out as seeds and how they grow into fruits and vegetables they can eat,” teacher Young said.
The girls have been learning about how to care for their bodies and nutrition, but for some of the girls, it’s the first time they’ve been exposed to the process of growing food.
“One of them just said ‘I never realized that eating green beans came from doing this.’ They thought they just came out of a can and the they’d eat them,” Young said. “But now they see they have to be grown and someone has to do this job and then they can eat them.”
Kaitlyn Summerour, 12, picked green beans alongside her friend, 11-year-old Samya Young.
“I like picking the stuff out of the garden but I don’t like the bugs,” Kaitlyn said, showing off an ant bite on her hand.
Samya’s family has a garden of its own so she already has some experience with planting and harvesting.
“I like how we get to be in the garden and learn new things that we didn’t even know about,” Samya said.
Growing fruits and vegetables teaches the girls about a lot more than just food; it teaches them self-reliance and self-worth.
“Everybody has got potential. Sometimes all these girls need is to know you can make it,” Teresa Young said.
One of the girls, 13-year-old Hannah Stovall, is proof of how much the program can help. When she first joined the program three years ago, her family and teachers described her as a shy girl who kept her distance. Now her teachers describe her as talkative and a dancer.
“I like it here,” Hannah said. “It’s really fun and we get to do all kinds of things like go on field trips, we have speakers, we dance and we sing and there are a lot of cool people here.”
By listing to speakers and visiting different places, the girls learn about everything from study habits, higher education, attitude and sexual health.
“This girls leadership program offers them so much more. It offers them life skills,” Young said.