Healthy living growing at Hy-Vee

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jen Haugen, Hy-Vee dietitian, helps kids fill out journals with information about vegetables and healthy meals. The kids participate in the new Sprouts program, which maintains a garden outside of Hy-Vee as a summer community education class for kids. -- Matt Peterson/

Grocer’s gardens to promote veggies

Kids know they’re supposed to eat their vegetables regularly to stay healthy. This summer, they’ll discover a lot more than that.

Wednesday morning at Hy-Vee marked the first day of a new program for Austin’s kids — Hy-Vee Sprouts. The groups, ages 3 to 9 from Austin Public Schools and Community Education’s Kids Korner, will spend every Wednesday this summer learning from their own gardens.

With the help of more than $8,000 from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), Hy-Vee and Kids Korner were a able to set up a fenced area with planting boxes, a shed, tables and various equipment for gardening on the east side of the store. For employees from Hy-Vee, Kids Korner and Mayo Clinic, who all participated, the program is all about getting kids started early. And for Jen Haugen, Hy-Vee’s dietitian, the program finally became a reality.

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A vegetable sprouts from the garden outside Hy-Vee. -- Matt Peterson/

“It was something that I always wanted to do,” she said, and added when the funding was in place, it took a lot of preparation, as well. “It’s been nine months in the making.”

Hy-Vee Sprouts works well for both kids and adults, too. Instead of kids spending all day at daycare, they spend time in a day camp atmosphere, according to Terri Wermager, community education coordinator with Austin Public Schools. She, Haugen and several others helped the kids with their first day of what will be an all-around learning experience. Among planting the gardens, the kids will learn how to maintain the plants, pick ripe vegetables, keep detailed journals, spell words they’ve never seen and try vegetables they’ve never tasted. The program also includes some cooking instructions. Wednesday, the kids tried spinach after they made a spinach and lemon dressing salad.

“The goal is to provide a seed-to-table experience,” Haugen said.

Though spinach doesn’t sound appealing to many, most of the kids thought the salad was good. Most important, they had fun.

“I loved it,” yelled Cameron Swenson, one of several Sprouts in the morning class.

Although the Sprouts class is only once a week, the kids will keep their journals and share experiences with their parents, which some hope will transfer to better nutrition habits at home.

“Hopefully they’ll take away that vegetables are tasty, and they’re fun to prepare,” Haugen said. “And the goal is to get them to take that home to become a family experience.”

Through the end of August, the Sprouts will grow tomatoes, spinach, chard, bell peppers, carrots, green beans and squash. However, the garden isn’t only for kids. Community Education will soon hold evening gardening classes for the public, as well.