DURANT, Okla. – Growing is what kids do. Children enrolled in the Choctaw Nation Head Start and Daycare in Durant got into a different kind of growth spurt Friday when about 60 of the students visited the Choctaw Nation Hoop House. There, in the half-moon-shaped, plastic greenhouse they planted vegetable seeds. It was the first step in the new Edible Schoolyard Project.

“Today they are planting the seeds,” said Chahta Foundation Executive Director Seth Fairchild.

Later they will transfer the plants that grow from these seeds to their “garden classroom,” located between the Head Start and Daycare centers.

“Students will tend to their Edible Schoolyard and eventually they will serve what comes from their garden for lunch. This allows them to see the whole process of planting to eating what they have grown,” said Fairchild.

The Edible Schoolyard Project is spearheaded by the Chahta Foundation Board and with assistance from the Choctaw Nation.

It grew from discussions about a similar effort last year, in which the Chahta Foundation delivered and installed wheelchair-accessible raised garden beds, gardening supplies, and plants to 30 Choctaw elders.

“This is a pilot project with Durant, which we hope to expand to other Head Starts,” said Fairchild.

The Chahta Foundation keeps cost at a minimum, but has hopes that strong outcomes and positive feedback from the pilot program’s first year will pave the way for grant funding to defray the expense of future expansion.

Friday, as the first wave of 18 young farmers filed off the bus and into the Hoop House, a line of grownups stood by to assist. On hand were a mound of potting soil, tub of water, sticks for poking holes in the dirt, little square planters, and lots of seed packets that included beets, beans, cantaloupes, watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, and green onions.

“Take a handful of dirt and fill the little squares,” said Martha Lowery, Program Specialist with the Chahta Foundation program. The direction was met with several “Eeeewwwws!” But soon little fingers were busy and the Hoop House was buzzing with giggles, squeals, fast-paced questions, and teachers trying to keep up with the clearly popular activity.

“Can I trade my beets for tomatoes? I like tomatoes,” said one small voice.

“Now put four seeds in the hole that you made in the square,” Lowery said.

“Where’s my stick to make a hole?” asked another little voice.

About the middle of March, a Parent-Teacher Work Day will be held at the Edible Schoolyard location. That’s when gardening beds for the re-planting will be built and installed. It will be the next step in the project.

“We want this to have an impact on kids,” Fairchild said. “They will learn elements of science, agriculture, and more.”

While the Head Start youth were primarily ages 3 and 4, some up to age 12 participated as part of the Choctaw Nation After School Program.

Upon high-fiving his way out of the Hoop House, 11-year-old Jensen admitted he had never done anything like this before. “We don’t have a garden at my house,” he said. “I planted cantaloupes,” he added with pride.

For information about the Edible Schoolyard Project, contact the Chahta Foundation at 800-522-6170 or online at https://chahtafoundation.com/.