EAST ST. LOUIS — About 100 residents turned out Saturday to the F.R.E.S.H. Community Teaching Garden to learn about the fruits and vegetables they can easily grow to save money and eat healthier.
The sun was shining brilliantly and the temperature was in the 80s for the garden's kickoff event. Some people sat under tents and snacked on a variety of fruits and vegetables, and for the meat eaters there were broiled hamburgers, grilled hot dogs and more. And there was lots of laughter and chatter.
Elizabeth Patton Whiteside, chief operator of the garden, was beaming with pride as she walked through the garden with visitors, talking to them about the fruit trees, vegetables and herbs that have been planted and that will be available for sale starting June 1 at the city's Fresh Farmers Market.
"We have a great turnout for the kickoff. I am very pleased," she said.
Patton Whiteside said her goal Saturday was to show those who didn't know anything about growing fruits and vegetables that it doesn't take much to grow their own fruits and vegetables and it is cheaper than buying them at grocery stores.
The garden at 656 N. 20th St. consists of 20 fruit trees -- apple, orange, peach, pear, cherry and more. There are herbs including spearmint, peppermint, sage, oregano and thyme.
"We have many different vegetables, too, including green peppers, cabbage and carrots," Patton Whiteside said.
There are 28 community beds on the ground and a pull-out shed where vegetables are grown out of donated pallets.
F.R.E.S.H. is an acronym for Foods Raised at East Side Health.
Maretha McCoy said her 6-year-old daughter, Courtney McCoy, inspired her to get involved.
"She wanted to know how to grow her own fruit and vegetables and asked me to bring her out," McCoy said. "I am glad that I came. As a parent it is my job to encourage her to have positive visions. This is her vision and I am here to support her."
She said she and her daughter come to the garden every Saturday from 9 a.m.- noon to take care of their plants.
"We pull the weeds out and clean it up. It's fun," she said.
Courtney, while playing with three balloons, grinned as she described how much she liked the garden.
"I wanted to grow some fruits and vegetables. My mom brought me here and I like it," she said. Courtney also said she plans to eat healthier.
Mashia Stewart, 18, said she likes the garden because it "one of the few positive things" in East St. Louis.
"The community is involved and young people are involved in the garden," Stewart said. "Everybody is learning about the garden. We are learning w0hat fruits and vegetables are good to help us avoid cancer and other diseases. We are also learning how we can be healthy.
"And, I like the samples that they are giving away," she said smiling and wiping away sweat from her face.
Patton Whiteside the visitors also got a chance to have their blood pressures taken and take a tour of the East Side Health District's new vehicle that will travel to schools that do not have school-based health centers.
For more information about the garden, call 618-874-4713.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.