When Jen Haugen was hired as the dietitian at the Austin, MN Hy-Vee store in 2008, store director Todd Hepler asked, “What is your dream for this position?” Haugen said she had always wanted to start a kids’ gardening program that would encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables by teaching them how to grow and prepare fresh produce. It took two years of building relationships and exploring funding options, but in the fall of 2010 Haugen secured a grant from the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to launch the Hy-Vee Sprouts – Get Out and Grow! program. Haugen wrote the curriculum for the program, Hy-Vee provided graphic design help, and the Sprouts program got underway in the spring of 2011 on a plot adjacent to the Austin Hy-Vee store. About 80 elementary-age students from the local school district’s summer program participated in the first 12-week session of the program, meeting once a week in groups of 10-15. Each 90-minute session covered one particular fruit or vegetable grown in the garden; the students would learn about the item, explore it using the five senses, use it in a recipe, taste their creations, and spend time working in the garden (planting, weeding, watering or harvesting – whatever needed doing that week). By the summer of 2012, the Sprouts program had doubled in size to 150 kids. Haugen wrote a 120-page manual detailing every aspect of the program, and 40 more Hy-Vee stores adopted similar programs in their communities.
The Austin Hy-Vee store furnished a plot of land adjacent to the store for the garden and about $10,000 worth of soil, seed and plants, as well as t-shirts for every participant. Hy-Vee’s corporate office provided graphic design assistance and printed materials. Haugen used the $9,000 state grant to purchase vinyl fencing for the 40x60 garden, vinyl picnic tables, an outdoor hand-washing station and a shed to store materials. Students from the local high school building class supplied the labor to build raised gardening beds. Expertise and other support have been provided by the Hormel Institute in Austin, Burpee Seeds, and local suppliers. The Austin schools and YMCA provide transportation for students in the program. Haugen has made numerous presentations to community organizations, and talks about the program as part of her weekly appearances on local television and her weekly column in the local newspaper.
The mission of the Hy-Vee Sprouts – Get Out and Grow! program is “planting seeds for healthy habits that will last a lifetime.” Objectives: 1.) To help children make healthier food choices and increase their fruit and vegetable intake. 2.) To teach the connection between the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and good health. 3.) To teach children how to prepare healthier meals and snacks. 4.) To reinforce positive perceptions of healthy foods. To support these objectives, Haugen has the students do journaling at the conclusion of each class. Students are asked for their reactions to the fruits and vegetables they sample during class. Instead of saying they don’t like a particular item, they are encouraged to say, “I don’t like it YET.” The only ironclad rule in Sprouts is “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum” – you might not care for a vegetable, but don’t ruin another student’s enjoyment of that item.
The Sprouts program has achieved measurable success in meeting its objectives. Participation nearly doubled from Season 1 to Season 2, with more students set to come on board in Season 3. Enhancements for Season 3 include expanding the size of the garden, installation of a sun shelter and the introduction of a composting program using food waste from the store. An additional 40 Hy-Vee stores are using Haugen’s manual to conduct some variation of the Sprouts program in their communities. The students journal their thoughts each week, and Haugen uses this feedback to plan future programming. At the conclusion of Season 2, Haugen invited parents of the participants to take an anonymous survey. More than half of the parents returned the survey. Among the findings: • 91 percent said their children shared information about Sprouts activities • 61 percent said their children were more excited about cooking • 52 percent noticed positive changes in their children’s attitudes about fruits and vegetables • 48 percent said they now offered more fruits and vegetables at home • 44 percent said they involved their children in more cooking activities at home • 35 percent said they had started growing their own fruits and vegetables at home • 35 percent said they had changed their families’ meals to make them healthier Parents commented that their formerly picky eaters were more willing to try new foods at home.
Randy Edeker, Chairman, CEO and President, Hy-Vee, Inc.: “The Hy-Vee Sprouts program is designed to teach children the connection between fresh food and good health. This is exactly the type of program that fulfills the Hy-Vee mission of making lives easier, healthier, and happier. Jen Haugen and the Austin Hy-Vee have done a great job of making this program a success, and now other stores are taking note. We look forward to seeing similar results from other Hy-Vee Sprouts programs throughout our operating area.”
Zigang Dong, M.D, Ph.D, Executive Director, Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota-Mayo Clinic: “The Austin Hy-Vee’s “Sprouts” program does an outstanding job of teaching young children the importance – and fun – of growing and eating healthy foods. The Hormel Institute’s world-renowned cancer research was a great fit with this program in 2012 … The Institute’s partnership with “Sprouts” helped children think of vegetables, fruits and herbs in new ways, particularly as cancer fighters in the body. We look forward to continuing this partnership.” Seth Reed, program representative, Burpee Home Gardens: “The Sprouts program is an incredible outreach program … There are a lot of community gardens out there, but I’ve yet to come across one that has the passion to teach children about gardening the way Jen Haugen does … She even sought out a new product line of ours to better incorporate nutrition into the gardening discussion.”