Thursday, April 7, 2005
When the last bell rings at 2pm at Bardin Elementary in Salinas, the learning ends for most kids, but not for six students who belong to the school’s health club. They’re about to get their hands dirty and learn a life lesson in the process.
These six are participating in a project called “Plant a Seed for Good Health,” designed to teach kids the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables by planting seeds and sharing the experience with their classmates. The project will continue throughout the school year until it’s time to harvest the crops.
It’s sponsored by area health organizations 5 a Day Power Play, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Life Lab Science Program and Go For Health, and will reach more than 700 school kids in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.
Lenore Green, Bardin’s fourth and fifth grade nutrition instructor and health club leader, says nutrition education is “sadly needed. Most families don’t know enough of what they need to know.”
So she—and others who are coordinating the Plant a Seed campaign—are counting on the kids to act as role models for the rest of their families when it comes to eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Hopefully,” she says, “the kids will get their parents to start [a garden] at home.”
On a sunny spring afternoon, health club students eat a freshly prepared salad and drink low-fat, one percent milk.
Then they listen to a short lecture about the importance of fruits and vegetables.
Now it’s time to visit the school’s garden.
“How are these veggies better than the veggies in the stores?” Green asks. “We can make sure they have no pesticides,” she tells the students.
The kids pick their favorite kind of fruit or vegetable and create a label for it, listing the student’s and the crop’s name. They plant their seeds and water the soil, sharing rakes and shovels and offering insight as to the best place to plant each type of seed.
Cesar Naba says he likes eating fruits and vegetables. “Carrots are the best though,” he adds.
As the shoveling and watering continue, students proudly point out the variety of plants already popping up in their garden.
“We have strawberries, lettuce, radish, chards, tomatoes, herbs, cauliflower and carrots and more,” says Priscilla Garcia, who’s also planting carrots today.
“Because I think carrots are good,” she says.
Diego Guzman says he likes the taste of tomatoes and carrots and enjoys the chance to garden with his classmates.
“My favorite part is watering them,” he says. “We need to plant more plants in the garden so it looks beautiful.”
“When students make the connection between food and the food-growing process, they learn math, science and language arts, as well as healthy eating habits,” says Erika Perloff, educational director of Life Lab Science Program. “We’re giving students seeds, soils and garden-based nutrition education activities so they can begin making that connection.”
Plant a Seed organizers point to recent studies published by the National Gardening Association that suggest garden-based learning helps kids blossom in school.
According to one study, garden-based learning increased kids’ self esteem and attitudes about school.
Other reports say gardening improves students’ social skills and behavior, as well as their understanding of life science concepts and investigative skills.
Additionally, says Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, who coordinates the 5 a Day Power Play Campaign, research shows that when kids garden, their attitude toward vegetables improves, as does their preference for fruit and vegetable snacks.
She says Plant a Seed for Good Health highlights school gardens as great places for students to discover the fun in healthy eating and physical activity.
“Only one-fifth of California’s elementary school children are eating the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables,” says Carlisle-Cummins, who coordinates the 5 a Day Power Play Campaign. “We believe this project will spark an interest in healthy food that will help more Central Coast kids to eat well.”