If you ask someone what they think the most important part of education is, you’ll get an array of feedback. Some people think that early education programs are the key to student success, others say reading and writing, or math and science programs need the most attention. After working with a learning garden program at an elementary school, I can easily answer that question. Learning gardens are the key to student success. It’s as simple as building a few raised beds, getting a group of students together and planting a seed.
Sedgefield Elementary School is a very unique place. Being a Title 1 school in North Carolina, they receive extra funding from the government due to the low income of the families who’s kids attend Sedgefield. Over 97% of students are receiving free and reduced lunch prices. They receive two school meals a day Monday through Friday, and whatever their parents have time to cook, and can afford, at home. Long story short: a good number of these kids don’t know where their next meal will come from, especially on the weekends. Since getting anything on the table for dinner is a priority, healthy food is not apart of their vocabulary.
This is why gardening programs, like the one I work with at Sedgefield, are necessary. These kids could hit 11 years old without ever knowing what an eggplant is without the help of gardening and wholesome nutrition programs. This is where Garden Club comes in. On Fridays during the after school program, the Garden Club meets at Sedgefield to tend to 8 raised beds of vegetables and herbs. The Sedgefield kids (with the help of some handy college students) plant seeds, water, harvest, compost, and most importantly, have the exposure and experience of seeing where real food comes from.
Cayisa has educated 78,000 kids through learning gardens like the ones at Sedgefield, and it makes a huge difference. The group of kids I work with at Sedgefield has stayed pretty consistent over the years, and it’s been the best experience for me to watch them grow. They start questioning the foods they eat every day. They wonder what kinds of vitamins are in the foods, and where it comes from, and how it got in front of them. They want to know how to cook it themselves, and they can. They are leaving the program with the ability to grow their own food and bring that information home to their families. Seeds are less expensive than the grocery store, so with some love, sun, and water, nutrition is no longer the expensive option.
It’s the most rewarding experience, to watch a group of kids that didn’t know french fries came from potatoes, harvest swiss chard and carrots with more excitement than if they were receiving a new toy. Not are we only planting a literal seed in the ground, but planting a seed by exposing students to something new. By teaching them the importance of putting good food into their bodies, and making it fun, their lives are changed.