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School Gardens in West Virginia

May 2, 2012

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.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. MJ Wenzel permalink
    May 2, 2012 8:38 am

    I love this concept…here in Hampshire County they have notices in several places asking local farmers to contact the local school board if they are interested in supplying the schools. I think it is awesome even if they don’t have the resources to start the school gardens that they do use local food when its in season. I really hope this program takes off in our area. I am on a small farm and don’t think I’d be a big enough producer for what they are looking for so I really hope some of the bigger producers do take part in this.

    • May 2, 2012 8:44 am

      I live in Huntington and we were the focus of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution a couple of years ago. While my son in high school reported many humorous stories indicating the fakeness of reality tv, one point was very true. The kids in our schools are eating a lot of breads and potatoes. The school dietitian was working with her USDA guidelines and of course reacted to his demands she change things at once. But change is needed and kids need to be introduced to healthy food early!

  2. May 2, 2012 9:02 am

    I love this idea! I wish that I could do something like it; unfortunately, here in Central Massachusetts, the short growing season pretty much stretches over summer vacation. Still, I talk a lot about locally grown foods in our classroom, and have shared with the students that I grow what I can at home and shop through a local foods coop. Good luck with your school garden!

    • May 2, 2012 9:08 am

      I grew up in New Jersey and my lived in Connecticut for over 15 years. We used the wide window ledges in my kids’ elementary schools to start seeds and then transplanted them into pots for home gardens for Mother’s Day.

      • MJ Wenzel permalink
        May 2, 2012 9:28 am

        Now that you mention that my one of my sons elementary classes brought home plants once too…I wonder if they grew them or they were donated. I will ask him tonight. He had a summer school program that did that too.

      • May 2, 2012 9:35 am

        The gardens and plantings give a great hands-on lesson about fresh veggies and their nutritional value. Most kids, as you know, are limited to french fries. It is sad but true that this appears to be one more area where the school has to step in since parents have stepped out.

  3. MJ Wenzel permalink
    May 2, 2012 9:24 am

    I would like to see our 4-H kids try to really get the schools community interest rolling. But it takes a lot of resources and with the way they’re set up in class times they say they don’t have the time to allocate and after school is tough since they don’t have late buses – and pickups aren’t easy since our schools are so spread apart.

    I really hope they received good interest from our community. I wasn’t able to be very involved with our schools this year since I was diagnosed last Feb with epilepsy – and I lost my driving privileged for a while- and it took a while to get my seizures under control…but I am hopeful next year will be better and I would love to find a way to get involved with this program at our schools. My son said “I get to weed pull enough here at home I don’t want to do it at school too” not to say he wouldn’t since he can teach a thing or two.

    We normally do 1 large garden but this year we are doing 4 gardens to try out different areas on our property – so we aren’t doing a large quantity of any one veggie…not to mention restocking my root cellar since last year we didn’t get to put up any food no thanks to my seizures. But I don’t get my driving back until September since you have to be seizure free an entire year before my driving is restored here in WV. ~ I have to say I do feel guilty for not being able to find a way to get our produce involved…but as soon as mother nature is nicer to me I fully intend to be involved somehow.

    I am hoping they will send out updates before the school year is over the end of this month for an update on the status of this area program. This next season if they are still running this program I will def. find a way to get involved.

    • May 2, 2012 9:37 am

      Quit the guilt thing…that is a wasted emotion. Your health is what it is, you have taken the steps to get on top of it, and things were just different last year. Done. And now on to the next phase of life. *hugs*

  4. May 2, 2012 1:28 pm

    This is such a great concept. Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale (where I lived until recently) was based on a similar concept, and I loved supporting them. I hope someday I can get something similar started here in Austin.

  5. MJ Wenzel permalink
    May 2, 2012 2:08 pm

    Thanks! Its nice to hear. I love gardening and hope that if the kids start seeing the effort that goes into fresh food they will really want it over grocery stores. We tend to go to the off brand stores (Save – A – Lots) the majority of the time and I find myself turning over bags of veggies and looking at where they are from and a lot of time putting them back when I see its from areas that aren’t regulated. I have a son with ADHD and find I tend to be particular.

    And that is the biggest reason we really got into gardening. I spent several years getting my meals easier – frozen and eating out…and am actually enjoying making my own and home canning, cooking and dehydrating our foods and knowing that my son isn’t getting all those additives. I just hope that at some point he finds that after he gets the eating out and frozen meals out of his systems years down the road that he will come back to growing his own. Even now when we do go out he sometimes says that what he has at home is better – I hope that stays with him.

    I know he’ll need to live fast and furious through his upper teens and early 20s…and at least I have the piece of mind that for a good while he did eat good things. We gardened when I was growing up because my mom had 5 kids and grocery stores kept us broke. My son is an only child…I just hope he is learning the same way I did and at some point wants to come back to this style of living. ~~ and hopefully kids in the school systems will see/learn those same things

    I know he will need to do the fast and furious because even at his age of 13 he has his mind set to join the air force and do things with planes. I have really encouraged him since he is extremely knowledgeable already about the field he is interested in. So I just try to make sure, even though he’s heard it all before, how to grow, harvest and enjoy the outdoors gardening. And hopefully pass it on to the next generation.

    • May 2, 2012 6:08 pm

      Hopefully he will understand to be a good candidate for the air force he has to maximize his health and with you providing healthy food he will be ahead of his peers!

    • May 3, 2012 5:24 am

      Educating about choices is our job as parents, and healthy eating is only one of the many things we have to teach.

  6. MJ Wenzel permalink
    May 3, 2012 4:49 am

    Oh, and he doesn’t eat the school lunches they provide very often. So he listens about that too even if he does is without realizing. We pack his lunch 99% of the time. Once in a rare while, maybe 2ce a month, he eats at school. I am glad they send the menu for the month out ahead of time and we sit and he circles days to not pack him. So if they should get a fresh food system going that might increase.

    • May 3, 2012 5:26 am

      I was reminded of a friend my youngest son had in primary grades. The kid’s parents are vegetarians and of course that is how he was eating. One day we went to a fair with them and they bought him a hot dog. I asked why and the dad said, simply, forbidden fruit appears sweeter, If he tastes this, he will understand better why we don’t eat it.

  7. MJ Wenzel permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:37 am

    That is very true.

  8. May 4, 2012 4:27 pm

    My daughter is now also into gardening. She’s got pumpkin, sunflower and other flower seedlings now which are ready for transplanting. She loves watching a children’s show where kids are shown planting seeds, tending to the plant and harvesting them. 😉

    • May 5, 2012 5:37 am

      You have taken her to the countryside, to farms and fields and this is what has happened already! Over the next years she will love the food she raises and she will probably become a person who is willing to eat anything but wants to have a very healthy diet=, Good for you Malou!!!

  9. May 6, 2012 6:43 pm

    I LOVE this so much! Thanks for sharing.

    • May 6, 2012 7:18 pm

      Getting kids involved when they are young will help them understand better where their food comes from and perhaps also help them to be better eaters.

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