PUBLISHED IN THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Gardens are where the miracles of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, experiencing nature, enjoying exercise, meaningful human connection, multi-generational life-long learning and beautifying and protecting the environment take place. In a world suffering from chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, gardens are places of healing, where the medicines of activity and nutrition are available. Gardens are where an outdoor classroom incorporates multiple academic disciplines such as literacy, mathematics and science to develop life skills, increase health and nutrition and change lives.
School gardens at Mariposa Academy and Libby Booth Elementary, supported by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Grow Yourself Healthy grant-funded program, are two such places of miracles, healing and education. Grow Yourself Healthy staff and Master Gardener Volunteers work with school administrators, teachers, parents and community members to provide garden-based nutrition education for children and their families. Through this program, children at Mariposa Academy were off to the races this week—the zucchini car races, that is.
At the races, students practiced reading and listening as zucchini car building and racing instructions were explained. The grade-schoolers experienced leadership and teamwork as they designed and decorated their vehicles. And, the children learned first-hand about motion, forces affecting motion and gravity by participating in and observing races. The elementary-schoolers used math to time the races and see which zucchini car was the fastest.
Following the races, students held a farmers market to sell produce they grew in the garden to their families. The whole-family event, featuring tomatoes, peppers and herbs, raised funds to support the garden, and the produce sold changes lives. Studies show children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they grow them. At the farmers market, a salsa contest was held to promote veggie-eating in the children and their families. Grow Yourself Healthy program staff believes that small interactions like this are how big changes are made. They say that to change health and wellness on a macro level, we must educate kids.
Thankfully, gardens are great environments for education. Starting one requires planning and elbow grease. Community members, school officials, instructors and parents interested in starting a school garden are encouraged to start small, think ahead and cultivate a support system when getting new school gardens off of the ground. A must-read is the Cooperative Extension “Growing a School Garden” factsheet available online at http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/ho/2010/sp1014.pdf.
Starting a school garden isn’t the only way to provide garden miracles, healing and education to children. Gardening with them at home or in a nearby community garden is also very effective. Involve children in garden planting and planning, and guide children as they explore the garden. Whether at home or at school, be sure to practice food safety, and remember Cooperative Extension is a wonderful resource for growing healthy children, families and communities.
For gardening with children inspiration, visit www.facebook.com/UNCEMasterGardeners to see photos of the Mariposa Academy and Libby Booth school gardens and the zucchini races and farmers market held at Mariposa Academy this week.
Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have plant questions? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com. For information on drought, visit www.livingwithdrought.com.