Tuesday, March 23, 2010

School Gardens Bring Academics, Nutrition to Life for Students

When you think about public education, you usually don’t think about gardening. But gardens are actually cropping up in schools across Idaho as a way to bring classroom lessons to life and help improve the overall health, nutrition and academic achievement among Idaho students.

Heidi Martin, Child Nutrition Coordinator at the State Department of Education, presented to the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee today on how several Idaho schools have successfully used gardens.

In 2008, the State Department of Education awarded $30,000 in federal school gardening grants to 11 Idaho schools. Each school received between $1,500 and $3,000 to build a garden that would promote nutrition, science and agricultural education.

Here are a few examples of how Idaho schools have successfully built school gardens:

Students at Bruneau Elementary School in the Bruneau-Grandview School District turned a large weed patch behind the school into a large garden. Every student in every grade takes part in making this garden successful, and what a success it is. Every year, the school hosts a back-to-school night for families. This past year, the school served a dinner on back-to-school night made from foods grown in the garden. The result? The school had its highest turnout yet for back-to-school night.

Athol Elementary in the Lakeland School District has used the produce from its school garden in its school meals. In the fall, the school held taste tests with the students for several weeks so they could try all the different vegetables they had grown and chart their likes, dislikes and taste profiles. The school has also used the garden to reinforce math and science lessons.

The Hansen School District is home to the state’s largest school garden. The school district has actually been able to use the garden as a fundraiser by selling the produce at a roadside stand. They made several thousand dollars on the produce and plan to use the proceeds to expand the garden in future years. This is a great example of a healthy fundraiser schools can implement. In addition to growing produce, the school incorporated its zoology class into the garden by setting up bee boxes.

School gardens are just one part of the Farm to School effort that the State Department of Education has been working on in partnership with the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Preferred Program and the Ag in the Classroom organization.

The Department also provides technical assistance to schools and districts that are interested in buying local foods for school cafeterias.

Learn more about Farm to School programs or Ag in the Classroom.

~ Melissa M.

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