"Holy cow! What the heck?!" the boy cried, sinking his hands deeper into the soil.
He had hit something.
Frantic now, he dug faster until at last he uncovered a large, white orb.
Jacob Fritz, 11, held up the sweet onion and smiled. He kept digging, pulling out four more beauties.
"Look at these huge monsters!" he said one afternoon last week, squinting under the hot sun in Chaska.
It's that kind of excitement -- over vegetables of all things -- that has Jacob's teacher, Laura Greene, excited.
The 28-year-old Chaska woman and founder of the new Grow, Eat, Share project is out to change the world by changing kids' eating habits.
For eight weeks this summer, she's piloting a gardening class for Chaska-area kids through the Eastern Carver County School District's community education department.
About 15 students have signed up for the class, in which they plant all kinds of vegetables in a shared garden and watch them grow from seedlings to the ripe stage.
Greene also teaches them how to cook the vegetables and enjoy them.
One week the kids used basil and other fresh ingredients from their garden to make pesto pizza.
They also will share their bounty with others. Greene says she plans to take the class to a local food shelf so students can donate some of their crops.
"My belief and philosophy is that kids can garden, kids can cook, kids can share," Greene said. "They like it. It comes naturally to them. It will teach them healthy habits that will last a lifetime."
Across the country, a movement is underway to fight childhood obesity through similar gardening projects.
Promotion of healthy eating by kids ranges from high-profile efforts such as First Lady Michelle Obama's White House garden and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's TV program, "Food Revolution," to the myriad community youth garden projects operating in neighborhoods.
Inspired by a child
The seed for the Grow, Eat, Share program was planted when Greene volunteered in a kindergarten classroom in Chaska.
There, she met a pudgy 5-year-old boy who had been diagnosed as at risk for Type 2 diabetes. For lunch one day, his mother packed him gummy worms and Sunny Delight orange-flavored drink.
"That's what really got me," Greene said.
Last spring she approached the district's community education department with the idea for the class. They gave her the green light and she started calling local businesses and others seeking donations for supplies.
The response floored her.
People from all over the Chaska area offered soil, seeds, flowers, and their own time to get the pilot going.
One key supporter is Mark Halla, owner of the Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Center. He donated a 60-feet-by-200-feet piece of his property to create a garden for the class. Students use the center's kitchen sometimes when they're cooking.
"Right off the bat, I knew this was going to be a good thing for our community," he said. "It seemed like a natural fit. I think it could be more valuable than even she thinks."
Gardening can help children develop good eating habits and a solid work ethic, but it also can teach them valuable life lessons, Halla said.
"They'll learn about reaping what you sow," he said, "and that sometimes, the storm will come and wipe out all your hard work, and you have to replant."
After five weeks of class, the students and Greene already have experienced a few setbacks.
Donkeys in a nearby pasture ate their first crop of beans. Some of the watermelon plants died because they got too much water. And because the garden didn't get planted until late June, it's not far enough along yet.
Greene chalks it all up as a learning experience. After all, the program still is in the budding stage.
The district is offering the class again in the fall. The seven-week session costs $95. Low-income students who qualify for a free lunch may take the class for free; those who are eligible for a reduced-price lunch will get a 50 percent discount on the fee.
Jacob Fritz says he looks forward to coming out to the garden to learn how to make things grow better. He's learned how to make pesto pizza, a recipe he tried making at home once. And he said the class has taught him a lot about patience.
He counts pizza and Oreos among his favorite foods, but he likes vegetables, too.
Most vegetables, that is.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488