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Published: Friday August 22, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday August 24, 2014 MYT 11:28:50 AM

Teaching Garden: Kids learn to grow their own fruits and veg – then eat them!

In schools across the US, the 'Teaching Garden' programme is planting good seeds among kids and cultivating their taste for heart-healthy eating.

It's not always easy to convince kids to dig into their fruits and vegetables. But an American Heart Association programme is trying to help cultivate an appreciation for healthy eating among young residents across the US. Through the Teaching Garden programme, elementary schools are given all the tools they need for students to get their hands dirty planting vegetables and herbs while learning about the benefits of heart-healthy eating.

One sunny day, third-grade teacher Julia Spangler instructed youngsters to rake the soil smooth and gently plant potatoes, cucumbers, onions and other vegetables in raised beds behind Crouse elementary in Akron, Ohio. Nine-year-old Cirya Kindall enthusiastically loosened the soil with a hoe in preparation for the planting while discussing her favourite vegetables.

“Even though tomatoes aren’t vegetables, it’s tomatoes,” the third-grader said. “And I like cucumbers, too.”

Cirya picked up a grub and showed it to her teacher.

“What is this?” she asked.

“It will eat the roots of our plants,” her teacher responded. “Put it on the pavement. Let the birds eat it.”

Participating schools receive as many as 10 raised-bed gardens, a gardening manual, gardening tools, soil, seeds and seedlings, as well as an in-depth curriculum across kindergarten through fifth grade that ties nutrition messages across all subjects.

“Many children, depending on where they’re raised, have no idea where vegetables actually come from,” says Roxia Boykin, vice-president of community benefit and diversity for the Summa Foundation. “The Teaching Garden programme gets the community engaged. Hopefully, next year we’ll support another garden.”

Detra Pickett (L), 8, and Jada Martin (R), 8, spot a worm while preparing a raised bed for planting for a Teaching Garden at Crouse Community Learning Centre in Akron, Ohio. – Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT
(Above) Javon White, 8, holds a potato before planting it. (Below) First-grade teacher Regina Wilson hands a plant to a student to be planted.
Important lesson: First-grade teacher Regina Wilson hands a plant to a student to be planted in a Teaching Garden at Crouse Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio. - MCT

Across the US, more than 260 Teaching Gardens have been planted since 2010. The Teaching Garden programme is one of several strategies the American Heart Association is adopting to reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020, says Liz McKnight, senior manager of Healthy Living & Kids Market and Preventive Health Markets for the American Heart Association.

Numerous studies have shown that participating in school-based gardening programmes “can have a positive impact on student attitude toward fruits and vegetables and may also increase their consumption,” McKnight says. “School gardens can serve as a tool to provide nutritional education about fruits and vegetables.” 

At Crouse, the Teaching Garden is an outgrowth of an already blossoming gardening programme that previously started with help from the Master Gardener Volunteers of Summit County. Two weeks earlier, school families and community volunteers helped build the seven new wooden, raised-bed planters provided by Summa in preparation for the planting day. School families and neighbours will tend to the gardens over the summer.

“They will come back during the summer, all summer long,” Spangler says. “Community members and families will care for it, then be able to harvest.”

“We are gardening for our community,” adds Justin Cox, nine. “We want to make it beautiful.” – Akron Beacon Journal/McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Family & Community, Family; Parenting; Teaching Garden; Gardening

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