With the growth of a consumer-society America and the expansion of advertising by the convenience food industry, it can be difficult for youth to remember the importance of nutrition. According to the Prevention Institute, “the food and beverage industry spends approximately $2 billion per year marketing to children.” However, programs such as the Growing Together School Garden Initiative are helping to rebuild and emphasize health and nutrition for youth.
The program began at Theodore Judah Elementary School of the Sacramento City Unified School District, where an extensive “Science Alive” program promotes student learning through a thriving school garden. Science Alive “began as a garden program, but has evolved to include a science lab and a paired curriculum.” (Science Alive Program: A Case Study).
When a local non-profit organization called Soil Born Farms took notice of Science Alive’s encouraging progress, the idea for the Growing Together School Garden Initiative was born.
Soil Born Farms, funded by the California Endowment, devoted part of its resources to the expansion of gardens in Sacramento schools, including Oak Ridge Elementary School, Pacific Elementary School, Camellia Basic Elementary School, Nicholas Elementary School, and Will C. Wood Middle School.
“The purpose is really to develop sustainable garden programs that are going to impact campuses through healthy eating, science learning, connection to food, and even improving pride in their [student’s] campus,” says school garden coordinator Shannon Hardwicke.
A year and a half into the program, and thanks to the hard work of teachers and administrators, students continue to see the benefits of this science based curriculum and hands-on interaction with live gardens. Teachers at all five schools are noticing the impact the program has on their students.
“I have noticed that my students are becoming much more aware of nutrition. I have heard them making comments to each other about what they are eating in the cafeteria and whether it is healthy. I also tutor after school and my students have really gotten excited about the after school snack of vegetables. They have been calling them treats. It is the first year I have seen anything likes this.” says Maria Garcia from Pacific Elementary School.
“I have a student that barely talks, never really looks adults in the eye, but he is smart. Every day he checks our plot, runs his fingers through the dirt and on one of those days he looked at me and said. ‘This is the best part of school.’ I was shocked he spoke to me and almost moved to tears. He is just a little farmer,” said another teacher.
Teachers and students at each school are currently being training to care for their school gardens independently. Future Sacramento students may need to be prepared to get their hands dirty.