Hilliard's Mindy Atwood is the founder and CEO of Patches of Light.

Patches, which will celebrate 20 years in December, is a nonprofit organization that raises money for critically ill children and their families.

About seven years ago, Atwood noticed a marked increase in the number of children experiencing health issues related to diet, such as diabetes. Concerned with this trend, she wanted to do something to help children in our community learn about eating a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Atwood decided to address the problem by starting the Little Acorn Children's Garden. The garden is right behind the Hilliard Community Center, next to the community gardens.

Through Little Acorn, Atwood is able to teach children where their fruits, vegetables and herbs come from – and the joys of planting, growing and harvesting them.

"We teach kids about patience, recycling, and growth," she said. "We've even seen that gardening can be a really great activity for kids with autism, ADHD and other special needs."

Thanks to two intrepid Eagle Scouts who used their projects to pitch in, the garden is heading into its sixth year flanked by a new shed for supplies and equipment and a teaching center made of brick.

Local Girl Scout troops, Sunrise Academy, BMW, students from Ohio State University and many local families will be involved with helping out during this year's growing season. All that hard work will pay off in programs Atwood runs for children, including teaching them how to make salsa and how to prepare squash.

"It's grown tremendously each year," Atwood said. "Each year we add a garden plot and try something new. This year we're growing hops and we're going to try to get some monarchs to visit the butterfly garden by planting milkweed."

She estimates she spends about 20 hours a week in the gardens during the summer.

"We are all-natural," Atwood said. "No pesticides or fertilizers. And we use newspapers to block weeds instead of chemicals."

If want to help or take your children to visit the garden, email Atwood at littleacorngarden@gmail.com and go to the Little Acorn Children's Garden Facebook page. She will set up a time to show you around, and she always is looking for planters, weeders, composters, teachers and waterers to help out during the growing season.

Here are Atwood's top three reasons why teaching gardening to children is such a great idea:

* It helps develop attention span and rewards delayed gratification.

* It provides a fun source of exercise outdoors.

* It teaches responsibility and appreciation where food comes from.

More of Atwood's helpful tips on teaching gardening to children will be featured on the GoGreenHilliard.com blog. You also may register for a plot in Hilliard's Community Garden by emailing recreation supervisor Geoff Dew at gdew@hilliardohio.gov.

Peter Spreitzer is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.