Salem City students get lesson about eating healthy in school garden

JFA - Learning in the Dirt
Posted on 04/20/2015
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Learning in the dirt: Salem City students get lesson about eating healthy in school garden

Alex Young| South Jersey Times 
on April 18, 2015 

SALEM -- With the help of just a few raised-bed gardens in a small courtyard, students at the John Fenwick Academy are doing some hands-on learning on growing and eating healthy food.

For the third year in a row, the school's pre-k to second-graders are getting their hands in the dirt and going through every step of growing food, from planting the seeds to eating what pops up out of the ground.

School nurse Jill Parris, who is leading the garden program for the school, said two years ago, they took what was butterfly garden and turned the area into an outdoor classroom, where the students could learn about healthy eating.

"We thought it would be a good idea for the kids to get outside, get involved and see how gardens grow," she said. "That way, they can see what they can do at home."

Syeda Woods, the school's principal said the garden is a great to way to get kids interested in a number of topics, and several teachers at the school are tying the garden in with lesson plans about everything from healthy eating to composting.

At the same time they started the garden, the school began a healthy eating initiative in an effort to combat childhood obesity. Woods said the garden was a great way for kids to get excited about eating right.

"We want to fight childhood obesity, and the best way to do that is to eat healthy," she said. "They are learning that healthy food comes from the ground and that what they plant, they can actually eat."

Last year, Parris said she took some of the lettuce and radishes the students grew in the garden, washed them and brought them to the cafeteria where the kids got to do a taste test.

"It shows they can eat things they grow in their own backyard, and it even tastes good and fresh," she said. "To eat healthy can be expensive, so if they can grow it on their own, they're going to save a lot and learn a lot."

Parris took a group of kindergarteners out this week to start planting some lettuce, beets and carrots, the garden's first crop of the season. The kids all tried to push to the front of the line to be the first to drop the seeds in the soil or grab a watering can.

Woods said she wasn't surprised by how well the kids took to the garden.

"It's one of the great things about early childhood education," she said. "They're still excited, they're still curious. When you have that curiosity, you want to feed it. Playing in the dirt, in he ground, we all enjoyed that when we were children. They have an excuse to dig for worms now."

Parris said the kids plant all kinds of fruits and vegetables, and they learn about when to plant different things throughout the season. They start in April with the early-season crops like lettuces, and they continue into the core summer crops, like tomatoes and peppers.

Woods said introducing them to a variety of foods can help students establish better eating habits.

"Some kids are not accustomed to or want to try new things," she said. "But if they participate in the garden and learn to grow things themselves, they are more likely to want to try those things. It gives them exposure."

The school also uses the garden as an opportunity to teach the students about their own connection to farming and the importance of agriculture to their home county.

"They're surrounded by rural area, they're surrounded by farms," Woods said. "They can learn about why it's like that, and they can recognize that they're a part of it."

Their introduction to food production can lead them to have discussions with their parents in supermarkets when they see food they are growing themselves in the school's garden.

"They can say 'oh, we have tomatoes,' and they can ask questions about how the food gets to the supermarket," Woods said. "They can learn about farmers and their connection to the community. Especially here in South Jersey. We're the Garden State, and they can learn about why it's called that because they experience it themselves."

Parris said they hope the students can take what they learn from their short time at the John Fenwick Academy garden and maybe start planting their own home gardens. It's something they might not have known was a possibility before.

"It shows they can grow something in a small area," she said. "Our garden isn't big, but we grow as much as we can in there. It shows them they can grow healthy things right in their own backyard."

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