Simply put, the urgency to educate children on their bodies has become as critical as improving their minds.
The Plant A Thousand Gardens Collaborative Nutrition Initiative (CNI) took root in five M-DCPS elementary schools in 2007 to address academic achievement while confronting the obesity epidemic that afflicts one of three American children. The program uses edible gardens as outdoor learning laboratories to instill in children the desire to eat vegetables, the knowledge to reduce intake of unhealthy foods and the love of learning in all subjects. Based around the hands-on planting and harvesting of edible vegetable and herb gardens, students become enthusiastic participants in an interdisciplinary experience that combines the teaching of nutrition with learning in science, math, social studies, art, reading, language arts and writing. Meanwhile, parents work in the gardens, contribute recipes and attend workshops, where they learn ways to cook healthy.
The initiative engages students, over the course of the school year, to plant and maintain vegetable and herb gardens on school grounds while using those gardens to educate about healthy eating and nutrition.
During the five year study, the school gardens have provided an opportunity for parents, teachers, students and the community to interact with each other.As the herbs and vegetables grow, students take pride in their efforts.This may increase a sense of responsibility, self-esteem and environmental stewardship.
From a pilot in five schools, the Plant A Thousand Gardens program has grown to now involve more than 9,000 students from 48 Miami-Dade County Public Schools, with a high concentrations of ethnically diverse populations from lower-income families. Thus, in five years, the program has expanded to serve almost 20% of all elementary schools in the district. Parents and families attend evening and weekend workshops, discussing many of the same topics and sharing family recipes and eating traditions.The foundation of the edible gardens program is teacher training. More than 225 teachers, cafeteria managers, media specialists and science and math coaches attend after-school and Saturday training sessions to learn and share how to plant and maintain edible gardens, integrate them into the curriculum, reach out to the community, collect data to evaluate the program and advocate for nutrition literacy and healthy eating.
In 2011-12, we incorporated a peer-to-peer mentoring program where teachers from existing schools “adopted” teachers from new schools. They currently meet on a monthly basis, giving teachers new to the program the chance to learn about gardening and nutrition and how to apply it in their classrooms through cross-curricular integration. The program has 16 mentors who help teachers new to the program get established.
The success of our 48 current schools, where teachers have now assumed ownership of the garden programs and initiated training of new teachers, has inspired us to continue this “teacher-to-teacher" training as the catalyst for future expansion.
The program is directed at elementary-school students because dietary preferences and eating patterns form early in life and set the stage for long-term health prospects.
The ultimate objective of the Plant A Thousand Gardens Collaborative Nutrition Initiative (CNI) is to significantly change eating patterns in children and their families in ways that will last a lifetime.
For more information, please contact Juli Zeno, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Peter Uttal & Jeannie Necessary