Kingston Cares’ Megan Weiss accompanies friends in last Thursday’s procession. (Photo by Dan Barton)

Right about now, local home gardens are bursting with cucumbers, zucchinis, corn and more, ripe for the picking. Last Thursday, Kingston Land Trust’s Dig Kids celebrated their first harvest season by parading from the Everette Hodge Community Center’s garden on Franklin Street to the gates of the South Pine Street City Farm. There, they and their guests enjoyed a barbecue of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats-donated burgers and hot dogs prepared by program volunteers and the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community, who also helped serve up garden veggies and kid-made pickles.

The Dig Kids program’s pilot year concluded with success, said land trust Executive Director Rebecca Martin. The program selected five teens to be paid farmers for the planting and harvesting season and taught them about food preparation, flavors, nutrition, marketing, planting and more under the supervision and direction of City Farmer Jesica Clark.

“The first day they were shoveling horse manure out of the back of my truck,” she said. “They didn’t like it, but they did it.” Clark was most impressed with how the older kids role-modeled for the younger kids in the junior program. “The older kids would make sure the younger ones were doing everything right. They looked out for them; they helped them understand what was going on. It was nice to see.”

Dig Kid Sandi Alonso, 18, just graduated Kingston High. “I love this, it was so much fun,” she said. “It was hot outside a lot, but we did what we had to do.”  Sandi said she didn’t mind the heat as much as some of the other kids — “I even got a ‘farmer’s tan,’ as farmer Jesica [Clark] would say.”

Twin sister and fellow Dig Kid Syndi Alonso said that she learned something unexpected. “I learned how to be patient. It was definitely hard if you’re not patient because I wanted it to grow quick. I always looked out the window and was like, ‘It’s not ready!’”

The sisters are both moving to Florida where their dad lives to attend college in Valencia — Sandi to study nursing and Syndi to study accounting. Sandi said that she enjoyed gardening so much that she’s planning for a large garden in her father’s backyard, which will include oranges, flowers, cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes and more. Syndi said that the more rewarding, long-term benefit that she reaped was the education in nutrition.  “I learned better eating habits,” said Syndi as she explained how the program put unhealthy, processed food next to homegrown healthier foods to sample, and she concluded that the healthier foods tasted better. She said she also appreciated learning how to prepare foods from the gardens into dessert flavors she could enjoy, like harvested strawberries and mint going toward strawberry shortcake. But the most tasteful benefit goes to the adage that we eat with our eyes. “I’m happy I did this,” said Syndi, “it made my community more beautiful.”

Dig Kid Matthew Brownlee, 21, had never even planted a foot in a garden much less a vegetable before the program. He concurred with Syndi that the nutrition was the best outcome of the program, and learning what was healthy and just how satisfying that can be. Matthew said that “tasting” foods was the greatest surprise. “I would pick what I like to eat and bring it home to my mom to prepare,” citing his new appreciation for the delicacy of tomatoes and basil chopped together. Brownlee continues to return to the gardens to water them, as he feels it is now his responsibility.

The program, which has concluded for the summer and will resume in the fall, was possible thanks to a grant from the Columbia Foundation.