National Public Gardens Day (May 8) conjures up a multitude of thoughts for me. Since I was raised by a dietitian, there was a constant awareness of the daily need to consume foods from different groups and the power of good nutrition in terms of health, energy and a sense of well-being. But this focus on nutrition comes at a time of a heightened awareness across the country of the growing number of children who are hungry. One in four American children live in food-insecure homes according to the USDA. On the opposite end of the food spectrum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in three children struggle with obesity. There are cases where obese children are actually from homes where sufficient food is a challenge so the family is dependent on cheap, unhealthy fast foods.
As educators, we need to always look for ways to partner with community food banks and services and other local services that can help to provide quality food to students and their families. As educators, we have another way to contribute to healthy eating and an increased food supply. Creating a school garden is a way to engage students in a powerful learning opportunity while producing food that can be consumed by students and their families. The school garden can become a classroom where students can conduct hands-on investigations, learn about topics such as seed germination, pollination, compost, beneficial insects, and the many ways growing food locally can reduce our carbon footprint.
School gardens provide an opportunity for environmental education, in addition to the personal and social development by providing a practical dimension to these subjects. As children observe the magic of a buried seed producing a seedling and ultimately a fruit or vegetable, they learn not only where food comes from but also about the cycle of life. Children are much more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables that they grow, even if they had not done so previously.
As the days get longer and the weather warmer, it is the perfect time to begin thinking about a garden, whether it is a pot in a classroom or a plot on the school grounds. Starting seed indoors is a great way to put the winter blahs behind and to help students look forward to spring. Web sites like Kidsgardening.org and facing the future.org offer tips on designing and building a school garden and associated lesson plans.
So this spring, consider a classroom or school garden and provide your students with a rich learning opportunity when producing food that can be enjoyed in your school lunches or donated to hungry people in your community.