Boys & Girls Club garden celebrates three years

For three years, children at the Ray Griset Boys & Girls Club in Encinitas have been able to learn more about and have more control over the food they eat.

The Center for a Healthy Lifestyle opened the club's Urban Farm and Garden in 2014 as a way to help combat obesity, said Jessica Ellis, director of the Center for Healthy Living.

Children help grow a variety of locally-based fruits and vegetables and also learn how to prepare them for meals.

"[Board member Barbara Harper] had noticed there was a lack of cooking, gardening and food knowledge available to kids," Ellis said Nov. 14 at an anniversary celebration for the garden. A location in Solana Beach also opened in 2009.

Since its inception, the Encinitas garden has partnered with organizations such as the Solana Center, Rotary clubs, Boy Scout troops and Girl Scout troops to bring programming to children.

The garden has also been utilized as a community space. A couple held a 306-person wedding near the garden's fountain last month.

"We were able to offer someone a beautiful place to have their wedding at a much more affordable price," Ellis said. "The proceeds went back to the Boys & Girls Club."

This past summer, the garden hosted 22 week-long camps for more than 1,000 children on themes such as a farmers market; cooking and ceramics; art; cooking and composting; and food blogging.

But perhaps one of the most innovative topics the kids learn is coding, said Blake Johnson, development director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito.

As the children learn to grow their own vegetables, they also learn how to code on apps to control a windmill and moisture centers. Johnson said the club aims to teach children these skills to encourage girls to become more involved in technology fields when they grow up.

There have also been three Eagle Scout projects at the garden, including the creation of five owl boxes; the building and delivery of picnic tables; and the trimming of trees and clearing a hillside for a new avocado grove. The Girl Scouts have provided cooking classes and are expected to create a butterfly garden in the future.

Recently, San Diego County invested $40,000 in the garden as part of a community development grant, Johnson said.

Because the garden relies on donations, he said, The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito organization is looking for more sponsors.

"We want to make sure kids don't have economic barriers to come and learn about what they're eating," he said.

For more information about the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle and its garden, visit bgcsandieguito.org or centerforahealthylifestyle.org.

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