Purple carrots, raspberry bushes and a bounty of schoolyard-grown vegetables are sprouting up around the nation. Edible schoolyards are teaching children about sustainability, nutrition and the fun of growing, cooking and eating their own food. As more of these gardens germinate from an idea to a full fledged classroom, children learn about wholesome food choices — helping to curb childhood obesity.
The blossoming of garden classrooms
Instead of sitting in front of video games munching on potato chips, students at Columbia Heights Grammar School in Minnesota grow their own organic fruits and vegetables. The garden curriculum includes composting, sowing, tending the plots and savoring the harvest through educational cooking experiments. Everyone participates. Zach Carter, age seven, plucks a raspberry from the bush and exclaims, “It tastes like a strawberry, but not like a strawberry. I never ate one before.” This sense of discovery is an important part of the program, teaching kids that real food is not found prepackaged in the grocery store.
Teachers use a kitchen classroom to take the gardening project a step further. Using only ripe produce from the school garden, simple recipes are prepared and enjoyed by the students. An example is a vegetable soup created by Kristen Stuenkel and her summer class. According to Stuenkel in the article Schoolyard gardens grow, “The kids were amazed. One young man didn’t even want to try it, but those that tried it had seconds or even thirds.”
Hands-on gardening and cooking curricula are growing in the U.S. and abroad. The Edible Schoolyard Project, started by Chef Alice Waters in Berkeley, California, has helped over 40,000 individuals create, maintain and enjoy sustainable community gardens and learning kitchens. Through a social website, the public can now have access to the project’s resources. The program has even linked up with similar projects in Denmark, China and New Zealand. As noted by journalist Tamir Elterman in the New York Times, “The project is lauded for its role in combating childhood obesity and promoting health education over all.”
As an Edible Schoolyard supported learning kitchen, Common Threads is making strides with nutrition education for children. According to the program coordinator Stephanie Folkens, Common Threads is on a mission “to educate children about their nutritional and physical well-being through our free, hands-on cooking programs.” The class begins with the chef instructor discussing nutrition and the importance of staying physically fit. Next, the students participate in cooking activities that focus on food from different cultures. The program offers cooking and culinary garden classes along with summer camps.
In closing, Waters observes:
“We’re losing the values we learned from our parents when we sat around our family table, when we lived closer to the land and communicated. The way children are eating now is teaching them about disposability, about sameness, about fast, cheap and easy. They learn that work is to be avoided, that preparation is drudgery.”
By embodying the ‘seed to table’ philosophy with edible schoolyards, children participate in the solution — learning about slow food, ecology and nutrition as well as the value of meaningful work, quality of life and connection.
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