Monday, November 14, 2011

Wildkitten Gardeners Grow and Relish Their Veggies

by Pam Jeralds

In 2008, Macclenny Elementary School, in Florida, partnered with the Baker County Health Department on a Multi-county Learning Collaborative about Childhood Obesity. Surveys were sent home to parents to monitor children’s food consumption for five consecutive evenings in three consecutive years: 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Initial results showed that only 27% of children ate vegetables at evening meals. As an test, school gardens were planted and a program implemented to instill in the students [the Wildkittens] an excitement for growing and eating vegetables.

Two elementary teachers indicated they would like to have a garden for their classrooms. In October 2010, each class planted 14 different vegetables in 4x4 raised garden beds. An avid gardener who manages the Gardening with a Heart Community Garden became the school’s “Garden Lady.” She and the coordinator of the Childhood Obesity Project spend an hour each week with each class. Different vegetables are highlighted along with nutritional information, growing strategies, and take-home recipes. As garden detectives, students search for pests or hazards, tend the plants, and harvest produce. On Fridays, the teachers prepare the bounty for the gardeners to enjoy.

The Wildkittens have tested the soil for nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and the proper pH. They learned how to use natural products to fertilize, inhibit pests, and grow food year round in the Florida climate. Their fall/winter gardens produced broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, lettuce, collards, spinach, carrots, beets, kale, peas and onions. Now [spring/summer] there are beans, cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, watermelon, and strawberries growing.

The teachers report that the students love the garden. They immediately check it after entering the classroom. Parents offer positive feedback from their children.

Surveys taken last month show that 64% of students ate vegetables at their evening meals, compared to the initial 27%. Because of this increase, three new gardens will be planted next year, and more Wildkittens will learn the skill and love of gardening.

Name:Macclenny Elementary School Garden, Macclenny, Fla.
Founded:October 2010
Garden Type:School garden, (related to local community garden and 10 home-based gardens)
Land Type:School grounds
Garden Size:Three 4x4-foot two tiered gardens
Gardeners:54 students, three teachers
Demographic:Predominantly white, some African American and Hispanic
History/Purpose:Began with involvement in the Childhood Obesity Project
Greatest Challenge:Florida climate – heat and lack of water
Governance:Principal, teachers
Community Participation:Children, faculty, and administration actively involved; community involvement extensive and broad-based
Funding:The Childhood Obesity Project, part of a multi-county, multistate Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant
Partnerships:Numerous local businesses, organizations, municipal departments, local utility, newspaper, Extension Office, Explorer Scouts, Chamber of Commerce, County Commission, individual volunteers, and anonymous donors
Sustainability:Community-based partners
Plans for Expansion:Three additional beds in schoolyard
Childhood Obesity Focus:Basis of development of school garden
Greatest Accomplishment:Dramatic increase in children’s understanding about nutrition and consumption of vegetables

Reprinted with permission from the American Community Gardening Association.

Jeralds, Pam. "Wildkitten Gardeners Grow and Relish Their Veggies." Community Greening Review 16 (2011): 4. Print.