School Gardens in West Virginia
by Roana Martin
Gardening is a natural tool for teaching kids about healthy lifestyle choices. Involvement in the growing process may lead to an increased willingness to try new foods, expanding the array of fruit and vegetable options that a child will eat. Most children simply don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and what better way to encourage them than to allow them to get their hands dirty?
North Elementary School, located in Morgantown, decided to take action and integrate school gardens into their curriculum. In the spring of 2011, 13 raised beds were constructed, and children had the opportunity to plant vegetables that may be new to them including eggplants, pear tomatoes, rainbow swiss chard, and tomatillos. Garden based learning has been integrated into science and reading/language arts curriculum.
Recently, North Elementary hosted a “Family Math and Science Night: A Growing Experience” to highlight garden-based learning experiences. Families could choose from stations such as “Testing the pH of Soil and Vegetables”, “Container Gardening”, “Vermicomposting”, and “Garden Nutrition”, which I was able to lead. The children played a balloon activity to help them learn vegetable classification, and then got to taste test some fresh vegetables (unfortunately not locally grown due to the season) with a healthy dip.
The evening ended with children planting seeds, both for the school gardens and for themselves to take home.
The efforts taken at North Elementary are notable, with children being exposed to the process of growing vegetables. However, due to space, time, and resource limitations, this school garden is not able to provide for school lunches.
On a bigger scale, what would it take to get fresh local food into kids’ school lunches? Here in West Virginia, actions are being taken to move towards this concept. In the 2011-2012 school year, 150 West Virginia schools will receive $50 per student to spend on the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This is sponsored by the Office of Child Nutrition, which actively encouraged them to spend some of the program’s $1.9 million dollars on produce from local farmers.
The West Virginia Farm to School Conference in September 2011 brought together 92 attendees, from farmers to school food service directors to facilitate conversation and build connections in this important arena. Sponsors and partners of the conference include Potomac Headwaters and WesMonTy RC&Ds, Center for Economic Options (CEO), WV Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition, WV Small Farm Center, West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, and the WV Department of Agriculture.
There is movement towards bringing local foods into schools, but there is much room for growth. The National Farm to School Network currently lists Marlinton Elementary School, located in Pocahontas County, as the only existing Farm 2 School program in the state.
What can YOU do to help create partnerships between West Virginia farms and schools? If you are interested, contact the sponsors and partners of the conference listed above.