Nurturing Good Health and Traditions

By Charlie Nardozzi

It's a sad state of affairs when kids think carrots come from a can or broccoli grows underground. Tim Moore, agriculture teacher at the Gila Crossing Community School on the Akimel o'odham Reservation in Arizona, is using the Healthy Sprouts Award he received from NGA to fix that. "It's not just learning about where food comes from, but for the kids on this reservation it's learning about their history, culture, and a way to break the cycle of poor health and poverty," he explains. The school serves 430 Native American students, and one of its biggest challenges is the epidemic level of obesity and diabetes.

It all began when the school changed from a Bureau of Indian Affairs school to a community school nine years ago. The administrators asked the community what the school should be. "The adults said they learned life values and the right way to eat and live by working in the garden," says Tim. So they created a garden.

Getting Started
"When I first talked about growing traditional foods, the kids thought I meant fried bread," Tim laughs. Now they've learned to love fresh vegetables and fruits. "Seeing the utter delight in their eyes when my preschoolers grow and eat a fresh carrot for the first time is amazing," he says.

The 2-acre garden is growing food year round and is part of the curriculum from first through eighth grade. "Food is a very successful teaching tool in the school," says Tim. "With the Healthy Sprouts Award I was able to get curriculum materials I needed to incorporate nutrition education into more of my classes." Kids not only use the garden to learn about math, writing, and science, they get to take home the vegetables. There is still widespread poverty on the reservation and many kids come to school hungry. "Sixty percent of the food grown is sent home with the students to help feed their families," says Tim. "We also send seed packets and vegetable transplants home for the kids and parents to grow in their own gardens."

Helping the Community

The whole community gets involved with the garden at the annual Traditional Food Banquet. The fourth grade class and elderly residents from the community grow and prepare traditional foods for the event. The banquet also serves as a way to link the garden activi ties with academic standards. For example, the kids write recipes, measure ingredients when cooking, write letters to invite guests, and rehearse spoken presentations at the dinner.

The Gila Crossing Garden Program has become a model for other tribal schools because so many different types of learning take place there. In addition to being interwoven into the curriculum, the program teaches kids better eating habits and community values, and provides a way to share the tribal heritage with the next generation.

"One of my favorite stories is about our sixth grade class building a garden for a preschool teacher here," says Tim. "Every day the teacher's mother would come and sit in the garden. Pretty soon she started teaching the young children songs in Apache about gardening and the earth." The elders and kids are interacting to preserve their rich culture, and that's a gift that will last long past harvest.

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