UW’s Cent$ible Nutrition Program helping grow young green thumbs in Cheyenne

Photograph of woman and child planting vegetable
Kris Potter, a teacher at the Montessori School of Cheyenne, helps a young student plant in one of the new garden beds.

The University of Wyoming’s Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) is working with early care and education (ECE) centers in Laramie County to encourage kids to grow gardens and lead them to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“The Cent$ible Nutrition Program contacted us in the middle of May with the ability to help us get a garden started with the kids,” said Tina Ustunergil, director of Kiddie Kastle daycare in Cheyenne. “We have been really excited to do some fun activities with the kids and have them learn about the importance of healthy food.”

Teaching about healthy food and being active as well as assisting ECEs in making healthy policy changes is one of the ways CNP supports the health of our communities, said Mindy Meuli, CNP director. These efforts are part of a statewide effort to decrease youth obesity through the Healthy Policies Toolkit.

The Healthy Policies Toolkit was developed in 2019 through a partnership among CNP, Wyoming Workforce Services and the Wyoming Department of Health, Maternal and Child Division. The toolkit was adapted from the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures intervention developed by Nemours, a pediatric health system in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

CNP can provide technical assistance to qualifying ECEs wanting to develop and implement healthy policies, but due to COVID-19 and maintaining social distancing, planned work with ECEs had to adapt.

Growing gardens is one way Laramie County CNP and its ECE partners decided to add some healthy changes.

“We are really excited to see what the garden brings the kids and the learning that they will get from growing their own produce,” said Ustunergil.

Kiddie Kastle, the Montessori School of Cheyenne, Creative Compass School, Little Friends Daycare, Cheri’s Daycare and Debbie’s House Daycare all started gardens this year.

The Montessori School of Cheyenne had wanted to begin a garden project. Working with CNP helped make that possible.

“The Montessori School of Cheyenne wanted two gardens, one for the 1 to 3 year olds and one for older children,” said Tammy Ware, CNP educator. “A volunteer built them wooden garden beds on each side of the building for each age group. I provided them with seedlings I started.”

CNP educators started the seeds for all the ECE gardens, which were planted in early June.

“When I called the Montessori School of Cheyenne, they told me that the 1 to 3 years olds got to help plant in their garden, and they loved it,” said Ware.

So far, gardening has been a success.

“Everything is sprouting up, and the kids are so excited,” Brittany Wilson and Tess Barnes, directors at Creative Compass School, stated in an email. “The kids can’t wait to get here each day to see the changes!”

Gardening helps kids build excitement to eat what they are growing, but also provides new opportunities for learning and moving.

“We are so grateful for getting the opportunity to be able to do this with our students. It’s amazing!” Wilson and Barnes stated in an email. “Our thumbs might have a tiny bit of green in them after all.”

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