On a rainy day in late March, Drew and Chelsea (McClarty) Ketelsen of HMC Farms and I made a whirlwind tour around Oakland, Calif. The McClartys had donated $10,000 to the Foundation and, after a rigorous application process, Western Growers Foundation awarded several Oakland schools $1,000 each to grow and sustain their fruit and vegetable garden.
Why Oakland? “It’s tough all over for children to get their 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables,” Chelsea said. “Drew and I know urban teachers and we have heard their stories. After visiting these schools and talking with the students and teachers, we knew we made the right choice.”
Often a teacher or parent will lead the school garden efforts, but at Elmhurst Community Prep on the East Side of Oakland, HealthCorps Navigator Matthew Crimp has taken that role.
Giving us a tour of the lettuce, broccoli and tomato beds, Crimp explained, “Being on the medical side of things, I see the relationship of good nutrition to our children’s health. We are out here twice a week and the students learn both where healthy food comes from and how to prepare it. Practically every meal we cook in our after-school groups has ingredients that students harvest directly from the garden.”
Serving in the school-based health clinic, Crimp provided some additional insight. He sees the intersection of health with nutrition every day and stated that the number-one biggest complaint from students is a headache or stomachache. When asked if they’ve eaten a nutritious meal in the last 12 hours, the answer is usually no. “The lack of nutritious food in their diet makes students sleepy, cranky, and generally not able to perform academically to the level at which we know they can,” he said. “Our goal with our garden and providing them access to nutritious fruits and vegetables is to do away with seeing that health condition in our clinic, and to give our students the ability and the opportunity to achieve the way we know they can.”
On the other side of town, under the shade and rattling of BART was Ascend Elementary School. Jayson Weldon, who has been heading up the edible garden for five years said, “The best way to teach students about their food and where it comes from is to get them out in our gardens with their hands in the dirt. It is an experience so important for our students as issues of healthy eating habits, access to quality food, and food sustainability become such relevant issues to their lives.”
Briceyda, a first grader, said, “I never liked vegetables until I grew my own.”
Weldon went on to say, “Being able to relate state standards to experiences students can physically grasp is a critical element to developing lasting knowledge. Most importantly, it brings the fun back to the classroom. It is incredible to see how much students learn by digging around in a garden and taking ownership of the fruits of their labor.”
Luis another first grader, after planting radishes and finding some insects to put in a terrarium said, “This was the best day ever.”
After visiting five more schools, each with dedicated teachers, adults and students sharing their excitement and commitment to their gardens, Drew, Chelsea and I agreed, too, that this was one of our best days ever!
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