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The children and staff at UT’s Early Learning Center have begun growing a lot of their own food in an effort to eat healthier.

They want the school’s new kitchen garden to be a model for the community and a training ground for early childhood educators on gardening with young children and families.

The school is inviting the community to a garden party from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at 1206 White Avenue.

The Early Learning Center provides full-day early education programs for families of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners. It also is a research and practice laboratory for UT students and faculty.

“We have been working with our own menu for the last couple of years trying to move back to more whole foods and off processed foods as much as possible,” said Kathy Kidd, a program director at the learning center and a lecturer in the UT Department of Child and Family Studies. “Our chef, George Lovell, is working to continually improve the quality of our offerings for the children.”

The students are gaining gardening experience as they tend to veggies and herbs in their pizza garden, which includes tomatoes, basil, onions, green peppers, oregano, and mushrooms.

They’re also growing beans, artichokes, eggplants, and a variety of tomatoes, herbs, and lettuces.

“The children can cut the herbs and experience that smell,” Kidd said. “What they grow will be incorporated into their menu.”

The kitchen garden was funded through a $15,000 grant from the UT Alliance of Women Philanthropists. The money is being used for extensive landscaping and repurposing a previously underused area of the center’s grounds for the garden, Kidd said.

To learn more about the UT Early Learning Center, visit the website.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Kathy Kidd (865-946-4093,