Gardening With The Pros

Members of the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever organizations got their hands dirty as they helped teach students from Thomas D. Gregg Elementary School the importance of healthy living.

Joe Young, Tamika Catchings, and Natalie Achonwa helped lead students of Thomas D. Gregg Elementary School in a pledge.
“I pledge to be a guardian of the garden,” they said in unison. “I pledge to water the garden, to weed the garden, to water the garden, and to taste the food that comes from the garden.”
School teachers and members of the Indiana Fever and Indiana Pacers organizations around the garden beds chuckled and, at times, joined in. June 6th marked the school’s first day with the garden, the 14th non-profit Kitchen Community had set up at an Indianapolis school.
Young and Achonwa, members of the Indiana Pacers and Fever, respectively, and Catchings, a retired Fever star who now is the director of player programs and franchise development for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, were on hand as representatives from the Herbert Simon owned Pacers and Fever.
The Herbert Simon Family Foundation is a financial supporter of the Kitchen Community, which has locations around the country but started in Indianapolis in November.
“Teaching why it’s important to eat healthy food is right up their alley because as professional athletes that was a very important part of their upbringing and training,” Kitchen Community Regional Director Theresa Vernon says. “It just seemed like a perfect win-win for everybody, because they are able to talk so knowledgeably about the importance of health and nutrition.”
The garden features numerous sections that will allow the school to grow squash, basil, onions, kale, chard, corn, potatoes and more. The Kitchen Community provides programming and will assist on harvest and tasting days to come, but it is up to the school to determine how much it wants to use the garden and how.
Thomas Gregg has already shown the Kitchen Community, which aims to have 20 gardens around Indianapolis by the end of June and 100 by 2020, through an application process that it is committed to maintaining the garden and has a student-based need for it.
Karen Allen led that application process and teaches life skills at Thomas Gregg. She envisions after school cooking and gardening clubs, outdoor reading opportunities and more.
She thinks the garden is another opportunity to give students more ownership over what they’re eating. Vernon agrees.
“It’s more than a garden, it’s an outdoor classroom,” Vernon says. “It’s about a thousand square feet footprint of a classroom with about a 100 square feet of garden beds. We want the teachers to bring the kids out into the classroom and teach anything from STEM classes to literacy.”
Allen knows having the pro athletes present Tuesday helped build excitement with the students.

Natalie Achonwa of the Indiana Fever assists in the care of Kitchen Community garden.

“If I told them, ‘Try this vegetable,’ of course they’re going to try it because I told them to,” Allen says. “But, when they hear it from somebody who’s big name, yeah they’re going to try it.”
At one point while the kids were planting with their professional guides, a member of the Kitchen Community staff, Joris Van Zeghbroeck, came and checked on Achonwa’s group.
They had just finished placing their chard plants, so he told them to bend down and give their plants some encouraging words of wisdom.
Achonwa joined them.
“You will be strong,” she assured the chard. “You will be beautiful. You will provide nutrients and you will help these kids be healthy.”