Mother Earth's littlest helpers are also her most enthusiastic. Take, for example, Lauren Hilty, who at the age of 8 asked her own mother, Claudia, if she could rip out the flowers in their perennial garden at home and replace them with vegetables. Lauren is now 10 and is well-known at the Eagle-Vail community garden. On a daily basis, you'll find her inspecting her family's bed to see if new roots have sprouted. Lauren will also water other people's garden beds if she thinks they are looking a little dry. After watering, she wipes the extra droplets off the plants because she learned that water could burn holes in the leaves on sunny days. Where did Lauren learn all of this gardening knowledge?
"I looked it up on the Internet," she said.
Community gardens have been blooming in Eagle County faster than dandelions in a grassy field. Now West Vail, Eagle-Vail, Minturn and Eagle Ranch all have gardens, and Avon residents are in the process of starting one. Some see the growth in gardens as an opportunity to educate children about sustainability, local foods, plant science and nature.
Angela Mueller, owner of the Treehaus Early Learning Program, takes her tots (ages 2 to 5) down to the West Vail garden every week to tend to her program's bed. Mueller wants to educate children about how food really ends up on the dinner table.
"(Gardens are) where all our food comes from; it's what you should be eating," Mueller said. "If they get their hands in the dirt at a young age, they'll realize that food doesn't come from a grocery store."
Kari Corbin runs and owns Nurturing with Nature, a preschool program for 2- to 4 year-olds that focuses on outdoor activities and education. Nurturing with Nature has a bed at the Eagle-Vail garden that Corbin has the children water every day.
"Gardening is a big part of our curriculum because we're fostering a love of the outdoors, self-help skills and resiliency," Corbin said. "The gardening - they do it themselves. They plant it, they water it, they watch it grow, they're really proud of it."
Getting young children to eat their vegetables is a challenge most parents know quite well. Some have found that the solution is to have kids grow their own. Corbin has managed to convince even the pickiest eaters to try a bite of something fresh.
"This little boy, Lucas, he will not put a fruit or vegetable in his mouth," Corbin said. "But he eats it out of the garden because he planted it."
Ella Dunn, 9, also has a bed at the Eagle-Vail garden with her family.
"My brother usually doesn't like tomatoes, but when it's home-grown, he loves them," Dunn said.
Juli Babcock helps run the Children's Garden at the Minturn Community Garden, which started this summer. Each month, Babcock holds a children's program focusing on plant- and nature-based learning activities.
"In the fall, we're going to have a salad-making activity, where they can come and make their own salad and harvest the garden," Babcock said.
While adults are using gardening to encourage kids to eat more greens, some children are teaching their own parents about sustainability.
Even at the age of 2, Corbin's charges "all know how to compost and what they can compost," she said.
Claudia Hilty's family now composts at home due to her daughter Lauren.
"She's been totally teaching me," Claudia said. "She taught me to buy a different coffee filter that has not been bleached (in order to compost coffee grinds)."
The children involved in the Valley's community gardens might be young, but they're far from being "green." Maybe they like making their own food, or maybe they'll take any opportunity to roll around in the dirt. Either way, gardening is one chore they'll happily volunteer for.