PORTLAND — While many parents struggle to convince their kids to eat a vegetable – any vegetable – youngsters taking part in the Roots to Shoots summer gardening camp at Reiche Elementary School will happily eat a salad topped off with nasturtiums.

Six campers are learning where their food comes from and how to become community garden ambassadors during the four-week program.

Instead of allowing the produce at the Reiche garden to go to waste, organizers Corey Carmichael and Ali Mediate said they’re introducing campers to the bounty.

Roots to Shoots meets twice a week for three hours, and began July 11.

In addition to the six-part salad the kids made last week that featured fresh lettuce, rhubarb, and homemade dressing – along with two types of edible flowers – they’ve created insect hotels, worm bins, herb butter and fresh pesto.

“We just wanted to give the kids a real connection to the garden and to understand where food comes from,” Carmichael said.

Mediate said the program is being sponsored by the Green Team at Reiche, which “really wanted to see kids in the garden this summer.”

Carmichael said she and Mediate “both noticed there’s a huge gap in summertime opportunities for kids” to learn to garden.

“It’s really the biggest problem with school gardens,” she added. The kids are often involved in the planting in the spring, but then are not around in the summer to harvest what’s grown.

Both Carmichael and Mediate have worked as garden educators at Reiche and both have also participated in FoodCorps, a national nonprofit that works to “connect kids to healthy food … so they can lead healthier lives,” according to the group’s website.

“I love gardening and nature and I wanted to learn more about it,” Aselis Neptune-Hood, 11, said about why she wanted to take part in the Roots to Shoots camp this summer.

Her younger brother, Mo, is also participating and, like his sister, said he loves to garden. At home, he said, “I have a tomato plant that’s as tall as me.”

Lola Alvarez, a third-grader at Reiche, “it’s been amazing and really cool seeing all these plants I didn’t even know were here.”

Millie Keiter, 9, and her older brother, Sam, 11, are also taking part in Roots to Shoots. Sam said his favorite part is watering the plants, while maybe getting a bit on himself, as well.

Colin Brown, 8, was accompanied last week by his grandmother, Angie Palestini. They met Mediate at the local farmers market and “we wanted to come and see what (the program) was all about.”

Palestini said she’s learning as much as her grandson and had a great time last week learning about all of the edible plants available in the garden. “Some of these I didn’t even know you could eat,” she said.

“I hope this program can continue,” Palestini added. “It’s a real asset.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Ali Mediate, left, and Lola Alvarez harvest rhubarb at the Reiche school garden last week. Mediate is co-leading a summer gardening camp that’s teaching kids where food comes from.

Corey Carmichael, who is co-leading the Roots to Shoots summer camp, picking nasturtiums in the Reiche school garden last week. The flowers topped a special six-part salad the campers made.

At the Roots to Shoots gardening camp participants are learning all about gardening and the parts of plants. Here Millie Keiter, 9, writes down the six edible parts of a plant. Also pictured are camp co-leaders Ali Mediate, left, and Corey Carmichael.

Participants in the Roots to Shoots summer camp at Reiche Elementary School in Portland show off their six-part salad last week. In front, from left, are Sam Keiter, Aselis Neptune-Hood, Millie Keiter, Mo Neptune-Hood, Colin Brown and Lola Alvarez. In back are camp leaders Ali Mediate, left, and Corey Carmichael.

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