MACON -- Most gardening across Central Illinois won't start until the warm weather arrives in May.
Diana Morrow was one of those who couldn't wait to get started on the Watch Me Grow project that will be taking place for its second summer. She, her 4-year-old grandson Aiden Stoutenborough and other adults with young children visited Golden Oldies Farm near Macon in April for a seed planting party.
Fresh, chemical-free produce is grown at Golden Oldies as part of its community supported agriculture program.
Morrow, who works with the Decatur is Growing Gardeners program, was happy to pass on some of her expertise to Aiden as they planted seeds together and put dirt in handmade newspaper seed holders.
"This shows him you can grow your own food," Morrow said. "You don't have to go to the store. I want him to try new things. That's difficult when you're 4."
The Watch Me Grow program is getting an earlier start than last year, allowing more options of vegetables to grow, said Sierra Brown, who owns and operates Golden Oldies Farm along with her husband, Keith. The Browns will watch for the seeds to start growing and then bring all the seed holders to Garman Park in Decatur, where the group meets throughout the summer.
The Browns were happy to show off their farm to even the youngest of visitors.
"This is another outreach to kids," Sierra Brown said. "We want to give them more exposure to different crops."
The children planted numerous types of seeds, from lettuce, radishes, green beans, summer squash and basil. Instead of just having the usual tomatoes, Sierra Brown was hoping the children would be even more interested in fun plants such as cherry tomatoes.
The group plans to meet at 6 p.m. every Thursday through the warm weather months starting in mid- to late May, organizer Vasudha Pinnamaraju said. Updates about its activities can be found on the Watch Me Grow Facebook page, Pinnamaraju said.
The idea for the project started last summer, but Pinnamaraju said it didn't have all the grants it needed secured until June.
The early April weather was still cool and damp for the seeding party, but the spirits of the children were just as high. Some of the children tried a piece of parsnip Keith Brown had cut up for them, while others seemed to want nothing to do with it.
Pinnamaraju said the group is primarily geared toward children ages 2 to 5 to get them interested in healthy eating habits and having an idea of where their food comes from.
"It's not second nature to most kids," said Peggy Baity, who brought her 4-year-old daughter Grace to the farm after participating with the group last year. "It's a seed I want to plant with her."
Baity likes the community aspect of the project. She found out about it through the Decatur Area Arts Council, which is helping to tie art into the program.
Pinnamaraju said the group worked with Baby TALK, which received a grant from the Arts Council. Pinnamaraju hopes to add a fence with a large canvas by the garden in Garman Park to display participants' artwork and keep it up year after year for them to see as they grow older.
The Decatur Park District allows the group use of the plots in Garman Park for free, Pinnamaraju said. Baby TALK visits the program every other week to share books related to gardening.
Pinnamaraju said it's all intended to start children thinking in a sustainable manner.
"At our age, it's hard to get it in our mind," Pinnamaraju said. "At their age, they soak it all up with good habits."
Other activities for the children include weeding and watering the garden, a visit from a local beekeeper and harvesting potatoes at Golden Oldies Farm. Pinnamaraju hopes to start composting at the Garman Park site this year.