School Gardens: The Recipe for Wellness

By Michael Metallo

There's a lot of buzz lately in the education arena about the creation of School Wellness Policies mandated through the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. Congress has yet to appropriate money to the act, yet all schools participating in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal programs must enact a wellness policy by the 2006-07 school year that sets goals for nutrition education, physical activities, and school-based programs that promote student wellness. The law also includes language that supports schools to incorporate gardens and farm-to-school programs in their plans. It's reassuring to see that lawmakers are starting to recognize the established connection between kids growing vegetables and fruits and their increased desire to consume them.

For 32 years National Gardening Association has worked to revitalize the people-plant connection. While the wellness policy mandate represents significant legislative progress and points to the connection between nutritious food and learning, it is a reaction to the symptoms of a much larger need to reconnect children with nature and plants. There's a great deal of research indicating that gardens provide a multifaceted wellness scheme, one that helps children and youth achieve higher test scores; get exercise; connect to the environment; develop social skills; and improve their attention, focus, and self-esteem. Plus, they like to eat the nutritious vegetables and fruits they grow!

If we really want to get serious about our children's health, we need to talk about funding a garden in every school. Consider this: The USDA estimates that 29 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program - far more than the total number of people served daily by the nation's largest fast-food chain.1 Schools also need dollars to fund healthy school lunches that feature produce harvested from school gardens and local farms. This would address a multitude of needs. NGA's Adopt a School Garden? program and our grants programs are helping to close the huge funding gap, but more support is needed. Our Web site features classroom stories that show what a difference schools are making by offering kids the chance to grow and prepare fresh produce. We hope they'll inspire you to help give more kids the same opportunity - at school or at home.

1. Helping Schoolchildren Make the Grade in Nutrition. Rosalie Marion Bliss. Agricultural Research. October 2005, pp. 4-6.

This article originally appeared in NGA's print quarterly, Growing Ideas. This newsletter features projects, profiles, and tips that address topics of interest to home, school, and community gardeners. Growing Ideas is mailed free to paid Supporters of NGA. Sign up for a free 6-month trial subscription (two issues).

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