View this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel By Devika Garg-Bansal
But the trend is now turning with more schools using food gardens to instill good nutritional habits in children.
Life Lab’s “Plant It, Grow It, Eat It!” Workshop held Friday at the UC Santa Cruz Farm taught garden-enhanced nutrition education for elementary and middle schools. Participants included 25 garden educators and parent volunteers from schools and nonprofits across the country, including one educator from Brazil.
“It is wonderful being here and connecting with all of the teachers,” said Flavia Schwartzman, dietician and consultant for the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in Brazil. “Having the opportunity to be in this outdoor lab is beautiful.”
One of the activities included a hunt around the garden to spot fruits and vegetables in colors of the rainbow to identify healthy elements found in plants, or phytonutrients.
“Different colors have different phytonutrients in them, which support different health elements in human nutrition,” said John Fisher, director of Programs and Partnerships at Life Lab, who has been teaching these techniques for 30 years.
“For example, red helps the heart and blood, and orange helps your eyes. By eating a diversity of color, we’re supporting more human health.” Another activity included setting up a healthy food plate with fruits, vegetables, healthy fat, grains and proteins. The workshop trained participants to teach these concepts effectively in a garden classroom through gardening, harvesting and meal preparation.
Life Lab has trained about 4,000 people across California in garden-based teaching methods using funding from the state. It also conducted a statewide Train the Trainers workshop with more than 1,700 participants.
The Collective School Garden Network lists more than 800 edible school gardens across California that received a garden grant from the Western Growers Foundation. With help from Life Lab, most schools in the Santa Cruz County have active gardens, Fisher said.
“Putting in a garden is the easy part,” said Fisher. “Getting teachers to use it is sometimes more of the challenge, and that’s where Life Lab comes in.”
Fisher said that first lady Michelle Obama’s recent Let’s Move campaign has galvanized greater interest in the initiative. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention data, one in three kids in the U.S. is at risk of being obese, and rates have more than doubled since 1980s.
“Unfortunately, we are following the American way of life [in Brazil],” said Schwartzman. “We have over 60 percent people who are overweight or obese, so this is a global thing.”
Food and nutrition education in elementary and middle schools seems to be working. Fisher mentioned that early research shows that kids that grow, and tend and harvest their own vegetables are more willing to try them.
“We were growing broccoli a couple of seasons ago, and I had to tell this boy that he took too much broccoli,” said Jessica Ferrell, a workshop participant and garden coordinator at Nixon Elementary School in Stanford. “Later in the day I was like, ‘I just got after a kid because he ate too much broccoli!’ It was just so bizarre! It’s that effective.”