Jewell and Sovereignty Waldron check the tomatoes the students grew at the school garden at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Md. Photo taken by Jon Howell.

School gardens teach students about their food’s origins and provide lessons in responsibility 

A mom and her daughter walk out the back door of Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Md., at the end of a school day.  

“These peppers look delicious,” Jewell Waldron said. 

 “We can’t eat those yet,” said Sovereignty, her daughter.  

“Why can’t we pick these peppers?”  

“Because they are green and they need to turn yellow before we can pick them.”  

These conversations are not uncommon at the garden maintained by homeschooled students at the Emporium. The children are excited to learn about growing fruits and vegetables, said Ms. Anna, the program’s director.  

“A garden gives students a chance for hands-on learning where they get to create,” Anna said. “Because we live in an urban city, we don’t have a community where you see vegetables growing on every corner.”  

Jennifer Leupo, the creator of the Web site Planting Progress, worked with Anna to establish the school garden at the beginning of May. Children in low-income areas may not be as familiar with healthy foods as other students because of the high costs and lack of access to these foods.  

“One of the biggest problems we have is the large amounts of processed foods that people have access to,” Leupo said. “These foods are high in sodium and sugar, none of which are good for our bodies. They are also subsidized so they are cheap to buy. It is easier to get a bag of Doritos than to buy a salad.” 

Sovereignty admires the leaves of her and her classmates’ tomato plants. Photo by Jon Howell.

Consuming high-calorie and low-nutrition foods is detrimental to children. “People are going to find that their kids will live shorter life spans than they did,” Leupo said. Therefore, it is necessary to begin teaching children healthy eating habits while they are in school. This can be done by creating a school garden.  

It is important to target children because they are apt to change their eating habits. “Children are not born craving McDonald’s,” Anna said. “If they grow and learn about healthy foods, they will eat them.”  

“You can change a 5-year-old student much easier than you can change a 55-year-old adult,” Leupo said.  

Eating home-grown foods also teaches students about the value of achieving goals. “Once students are exposed to gardens and the benefits of the food that is grown there, they will find that they have more energy and aren’t tired right away after they eat,” Leupo said. “Once they see what they can grow food, they will also believe that eating healthy is attainable.”  

School gardens also teach students about the importance of being an engaged citizen. “The kids are always excited about watering and want to be the first to do it,” Anna said.  

Gardens are a place where young minds can learn about social responsibility. “They are learning that if I want a garden to grow, I have to weed it,” Leupo said.  

The students’ knowledge is transcending the classroom as they apply it to their out-of-classroom experiences. “We went on a field trip to the botanical gardens and the kids saw cilantro and immediately knew what it was,” Anna said.  

“They can identify plants, fruits and vegetables outside the garden.”  

The school garden at Joe’s Movement Emporium seeks to continue educating their students about environmental issues associated with gardening. “In the future, we want to focus on Native Americans and their experience with agriculture,” Anna said. “Agriculture was a huge part of their lives. We plan on growing the ‘princely three’ native foods: corn, squash and beans.”  

The benefit of incorporating a garden curriculum into students’ lives is vital to the health of children’s futures. “We are taking children’s lives away from them by feeding them processed foods,” Leupo said. “Even if adults don’t want to change, they should do it for their children. We should know better. Do it for Angel, who’s learning about basil. When she’s an adult, she will want to cook with tomatoes and basil because she learned about those foods when she was a kid.”  

Planting Progress serves as an outlet where teachers can post their thoughts on how to provide garden-based learning experiences for students. It is hoped that it will encourage interactions between local farmers and schools so that students can develop a deeper understanding of where their food originates. 

To learn more on how to create a school garden, contact Leupo via http:// plantingprogress.org/.