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Norwalk Families Dig Into Healthy Cooking & Gardening Program

UConn Extension Registered Dietician Heather Peracchio serves up some healthy food at the last session of a summer program at Fodor Farm Monday night. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky
A program that teaches families in Norwalk how to cook and eat healthy celebrated its fifth year at Fodor Farm Monday night. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky
A program that teaches families in Norwalk how to cook and eat healthy celebrated its fifth year at Fodor Farm Monday night. Photo Credit: Jay Polansky

NORWALK, Conn. — Five years ago, the Norwalk Health Department wanted to teach city families how to grow their own fresh vegetables and eat healthy meals

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“We wanted to find a way to marry the two — gardening and nutrition education,” Norwalk Health Department Health Educator Theresa Argonadezzi told Daily Voice on Monday.

So, the department started its Growing Gardens, Growing Health program, which is still going strong.

The program, which is held at Norwalk’s historic Fodor Farm, consists of ten 90-minute sessions held each Monday for 10 weeks. Families are split into three teams, each led by a volunteer master gardener.

Everyone — from parents to children — takes part. “We wanted to make sure we’re involving the entire family and the parents in the process,” Argondezzi said.

During the first few weeks, the families spend time learning inside the barn. After a couple of weeks, the kids enjoy the farm’s grounds while their parents learn about healthy eating and nutrition inside. 

The kids are particularly active in the garden, where they water the plants, weed and hunt for bugs and worms. “It’s all hands on deck down in the garden,” Argondezzi said.

When the kids are finished in the garden — they also participate in games and activities — they join their parents in the barn to sample the healthy fare their parents have made. 

The families also get to take home a “container” garden. They grew mainly herbs this year, and they have grown tomatoes and basil in past years, Argondezzi said.

The families also go home with an Expanded Food and Nutrition Program cookbook. And, of course, the knowledge gained from Heather Peracchio, a registered dietician from the Bethel-based UConn Extension program.

Peracchio teaches them nutrition, healthy cooking and food safety in a collaborative environment.

“It’s not a lecture format,” Peracchio said, adding the participants engage in brainstorming sessions and other activities.

The program also includes a visit to ShopRite on Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk, where families learn to navigate the store with Peracchio and the store’s registered dietician to shop for healthy ingredients.

In the future, Peracchio said she’d love to hold more sessions and reach more families. But, for now, she is happy with the barn where the classes are held.

Before the historic barn was restored, Peracchio said she held the classes outside with foldable tables and a skillet. But now she teaches in a state-of-the art kitchen inside.

“It’s so nice to have this space with the garden so close,” she said.

The program is sponsored by the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County and Pepperidge Farm Inc. Health Partnership and run in collaboration with the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension.

For more information about the program, visit the city's website here. Fodor Farm is also home to a farm-to-table cooking camp. For previous Daily Voice coverage on the camp, click here and here.

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