Gar­den­ing for Grow­ing Minds

Natural Solutions - - Get Inspired - BY SA­MAN­THA FIS­CHER

The spot­light on mak­ing healthy food choices has come into full fo­cus for fam­i­lies around the world in re­cent years. Thanks to ini­tia­tives like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!, more and more peo­ple are start­ing to scale back on junk food and reach for health­ier al­ter­na­tives. In ad­di­tion to Obama’s cam­paign, an­other lesser-known pro­gram has sprouted in­ter­est in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties that want to get peo­ple— pri­mar­ily kids and teenagers—in­volved in gar­den­ing. The Na­tional Gar­den­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (NGA) has been of­fer­ing their Youth Gar­den Grant through kids­gar­den­ing.org to schools and youth gar­dens since 1982 to get kids out­side, where they can en­gage in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and learn about the food sys­tem.

“As an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we rec­og­nized that chil­dren need to be in­volved in gar­den­ing as a way to un­der­stand the en­vi­ron­ment, en­gage in ac­tive life­styles, and as a way to bet­ter un­der­stand and en­joy healthy, whole foods,” says Julie Parker-Dick­in­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams for the NGA.

The NGA re­ceives thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions from schools and youth gar­dens ev­ery year, each of which shows a ded­i­ca­tion to strong com­mu­nity and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port, a clear plan for sus­tain­ing the gar­den, and how to in­te­grate some as­pect of gar­den­ing ed­u­ca­tion for youth in ev­ery sea­son. Through­out the last 33 years, kids­gar­den ing.org has awarded more than 10,000 grants to­tal­ing more than $4 mil­lion to en­hance ed­u­ca­tional gar­dens at school, and com­mu­nity cen­ters all over the coun­try.

Af­ter grants are awarded, Julie says that many pro­grams start small with a raised bed, com­post­ing unit, and a wa­ter source.

“Through the process of grow­ing, stu­dents ob­serve sci­ence prin­ci­ples, be­gin gar­den jour­nals, en­gage in dis­cus­sions with teach­ers and peers, try a new fruit or vegetable,” says Julie, “and of­ten through this process they share their achieve­ments with par­ents and the larger com­mu­nity.”

Speak­ing of par­ents and the larger com­mu­nity, Julie says that once kids start gar­den­ing, it cre­ates a domino ef­fect: “Youth gar­dens in­spire fam­i­lies and neigh­bors to grow gar­dens in their own yards. Gar­dens beau­tify neigh­bor­hoods, in­crease ac­cess to foods, in­crease pol­li­na­tor pop­u­la­tions, and bring pride to com­mu­ni­ties.”

In schools and other com­mu­nity cen­ters where the youth gar­dens are im­ple­mented, stu­dents can en­sure their gar­dens are main­tained through­out the sum­mer when school isn’t in ses­sion by work­ing with par­ents and fam­i­lies to have weekly sign-ups to take care of tasks such as weed­ing, wa­ter­ing, and har­vest­ing. Lo­cal gar­den clubs and Girl and Boy Scout troops are also sup­port­ers of school gar­dens that don’t have sum­mer pro­gram­ming.

Many fam­i­lies have a hard time com­ing up with ways they can give back to their schools or ways to ac­cess their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. To find out ways in which you can get in­volved with this pro­gram lo­cally, talk to your school prin­ci­pals and lo­cal gar­den clubs, or visit kids­gar­den­ing.org.

“Youth gar­den­ing pro­grams of­ten be­gin with an in­di­vid­ual or group of par­ents, teach­ers, or a com­mu­nity vol­un­teer who rec­og­nizes a need for stu­dents to have greater ac­cess to healthy foods and en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Julie. “This grant is com­mu­nity sup­ported and pro­vides much-needed fund­ing to schools and youth gar­den pro­grams.”

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