Let's Build a School Garden: A New Approach to Nutrition in Schools

Why haven't local school boards begun constructing school gardens to supply their cafeterias? In our current economy (with the rash of teacher layoffs, the cutting of arts and humanities programs from local school curricula, and the overall fear of staying solvent) why haven't we considered reducing the costs of operating our schools by focusing on the TRUE inefficiency of our breakfast and lunch programs?

There are plenty of students that eat only two meals a day: both being provided by the school they attend. There is a wealth of research demonstrating that individuals from lower socio-economic groups have less access to whole foods.

Typically, the lower an individual (and in this case, a student) falls on the socio-economic ladder, the more likely it is that the student has very limited access to healthy food choices. Schools, elementary schools in particular, pride themselves on teaching the whole child, and yet schools are well behind the marketplace in providing healthy food choices.

There is an obvious and healthy solution: Start a school garden. In doing so, students have access, some for the first time, to whole foods. Having started a three quarter acre heirloom vegetable garden at an elementary school, I can tell you that students are shocked to see the tiny carrot seed turn into a carrot over the course of a season. I have heard students say, "Mr. Clark, can I have that radish?" "Can I eat this Kale?" The enthusiasm and eagerness for healthy food choices I have seen from students with literally one foot in a school garden is at the very least powerful and at most a moment in the students' lives that could potentially change their future health choices.

It was this comment by a second grader standing on a row of Parisian Market Radish plants that really forced me to reevaluate what role the cafeteria plays in the whole equation: "Mr. Clark, do you think we could eat these in the cafeteria?" "Well J.C., if you weren't standing on the produce we could probably ask the cafeteria manager." The kids in his class laughed, but that moment sort of stuck with me: Why can't we eat this, all of this, in the cafeteria? The idea was planted amidst a chorus of eight year olds saying "yeah," and, "that would be awesome."

A school garden offers children life lessons and a start at creating a natural health lifestyle at an early age. Again, what’s not to like about the idea and the approach? Let’s begin the process of encouraging school boards and parents to get involved and see what our influence can yield.

-Brad Clark is a regular contributor to Natural Health Lifestyles

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