School gardens help students learn about nutrition and maintaining a healthy diet, provide low cost nutritious produce for consumption, and increases social, academic and emotional health. If every school in America had a garden, it would have an extremely positive impact on the communities of the students involved.
Programs like the garden here at Bellevue College give students a hands-on chance to learn about nutrition and creating healthy food. “Learning to grow your own food provides a mechanism to eat healthy food at low cost,” explained Michael Hanson, Botany and Interdisciplinary Studies professor at BC who also maintains the greenhouse on campus.
Access to food is a basic human right, but what about having access to food education and food with real nutritional value? “In the U.S., highly processed food is artificially ‘cheap’ due to subsidies for corn, soy and wheat,” Hanson explained. “So, if you live under the poverty line or near the poverty line, highly processed food is your best option due to its high caloric content.” When communities are living in poverty, having nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food resources can be an unachievable dream.
This is where the movement for food justice comes in. Food justice is defined by rootedincommunity.org as “communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals.”
When students can have hands on experience growing food from the ground up, they can easily learn about the nutritional value of the produce they grow. Creating it themselves gives them ownership of the process and can build nutritionally balanced food habits that can last the rest of their lives and be shared with their communities.
School gardens not only benefit the students who work them, but the communities in which they grow as well. BC’s gardens have contributed over $700 worth of produce to the Issaquah food bank according to the BC Sustainability page. The BC Garden Club recently announced that they have been given the grassy area behind the S building that faces the round-a-bout to expand their planting space. To get involved, look into the Garden Club at BC facebook page.
Even when low income communities or individuals have the knowledge of how to eat healthy, they often do not have any healthy options available to them.
“If a child gets out of school and has just a few dollars in their pocket and they go to the corner store, the bodega, they’re going to be able to get hot Cheetos and takis, and they’re not going to be able to afford or able to even find anything that actually nourishes them,” New York educator, farmer and food justice activist Leah Penniman said in a talk called Black Lives Matter: The Intersectionality of Race and the Food System.
National Gardening Association Education Program Coordinator Julie Parker-Dickinson expressed in an article at teachingtolerance.org that “School gardens have the power to teach young people that access to food can be solved by taking action in one’s own community.”
Denver Urban Gardens pulled together a wide variety of sources to find conclusions on the impact of gardening in schools. Their findings include: “children who are familiar with growing their own food tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and are more inclined to continue healthy eating habits through adulthood.”
Starting a garden in a school may seem as though it would be a huge investment, requiring new curriculum, land and a ton of maintenance. The reality, however, is that gardens in the school can start with small projects integrated into already existing curriculum.
To learn more about food in depth, students at BC can take the Interdisciplinary courses: Bite Me, and Bite Me 2.0. In these classes, students can learn about consumption, sustainability and gardening.
Reach out to representatives of your local school districts, and send them information from successful programs like the Green Bronx Project that have step by step ideas on how to build gardens in schools. School by school, each of us can contribute to providing equitable food and nutritional resources for today’s youth and their communities.