HARLINGEN — It’s not your conventional Spring Break activity.

Instead of playing video games or watching TV at home, Adriel Leija, 10, and his younger brother Dario joyfully spent the afternoon hopping back and forth across tilled rows of soil to pull out weeds and transplant okra seedlings in a garden.

HOPE for Small Farm Sustainability hosted the first of three free Spring Break Junior Sprouting Chef’s Club classes yesterday in Harlingen, where seven children learned how to take care of a garden and cook a healthy dish.

Each class is split into two sections — gardening and cooking.

With small crates of okra seedlings at hand, Junior Sprouting Chef’s Club gardening instructor David Vasquez led the students to a section of unplanted soil in the garden and taught them how to identify and pull out weeds, the proper amount of space needed between each plant and how to transplant seedlings.

Vasquez said the impact of the classes in the children’s lives is astronomical.

“Honestly, it can really change how kids think about life, how they take care of themselves, how they eat and how they think about nature in general,” he said. “Our goal is for them to be able to take what they learned home and encourage their parents to learn also.”

The overall mission of the Junior Sprouting Chef’s Club classes is to ignite a passion for gardening in children and to show then the benefits of organic gardening.

Kristina Rocha from Harlingen attended the class with her 11-year-old daughter, who she says has a passion for cooking and gardening.

“Her grandmother was the one who taught her how to cook and she makes anything from rice and chicken to steak and shrimp,” Rocha said.

Rocha believes the class is a great experience for kids.

“The instructors are very interactive, and I think if more kids took the class, it would be helpful for many generations because it can spark a passion in them for gardening and cooking,” she said.

Rocha’s daughter, Danylla Chamberlain, said she wants to teach her friends what she learned in the class because it was both educational and fun.

After the children finished taking turns transplanting dozens of seedlings in the garden, they headed over to the kitchen to learn how to make an orange beet smoothie.

Before attending the class, none of the seven students had ever eaten a beet before.

“We would like to give kids the knowledge they need to eat and sustain healthy lifestyles because when they’re taught at a young age it becomes a normal lifestyle,” said Junior Chef Cooking Instructor Jorge Guillen. “Introducing children to new fruits and vegetables is very satisfying and gratifying for me.”

Later this week, Guillen will teach the kids how to make a sweet-and-sour summer salad and swiss chard spring rolls filled with pico de gallo, black beans and sweet yellow corn.

Registration for this week’s classes is full, but HOPE for Small Farm Sustainability plans to host more classes this summer.

Since June 2018, HOPE personnel have hosted Junior Sprouting Chefs Club classes in Donna, La Feria, Rio Hondo, Harlingen, San Benito and Los Fresnos.

The nonprofit began offering these classes to conduct youth outreach on gardening and healthy eating after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


WHAT — Hope for Small Farm Sustainability

WHERE — 19833 Morris Road

PHONE — (956) 412-4916

EMAIL — hopeforsfs@yahoo.com

WEBSITE — https://www.hopeforsfs.org/