Turns out that kids should be encouraged to play with their food. School garden projects and the research behind them provide proof of the ample benefits created from allowing children to get closer to the source of their food. Programs such as School Garden Project of Lane County (in Oregon) intend to literally and figuratively put the earth in the hands of our youth in order to show them, first-hand, the power they have to influence it. School garden projects provide the opportunity for kids to get outside, dig up some dirt, and plant seeds that will ensure the next generations have the tools they need to make informed, healthy lifestyle choices and craft a sustainable future for themselves and the planet. Here are seven ways that getting down and dirty in the garden—through the powerful impacts of school garden projects—can change the world from the ground up.
1. School garden projects empower youth with knowledge about nutrition.
For too long, the American education system has left nutrition out of the curriculum. This practical knowledge is imperative to the development and long-term health of children. It’s time for youth to understand that ketchup, contrary to the USDA’s proposal, is not a vegetable. School garden projects promote a hands-on approach to learning about nutrition that breaks up the monotony of the classroom and shows children the health benefits and deliciousness of a plant-based diet. Access to healthy foods and information is essential to provide children with the resources they need to consume a balanced, whole-foods diet. According to the School Garden Project of Lane County, “Research supports school garden and farm-to-school education as an effective strategy to increase science lesson retention, as well as increase children’s preference for eating fruits and vegetables.”
2. School garden projects inspire kids to take ownership of their health, defeat obesity, and increase longevity.
As a nation with consistently high rates of obesity, Americans face an ongoing threat to their health and longevity. According to the Trust for America’s Health, our nation’s rate of obese individuals has increased from 15-percent to over 30-percent since 1980 and has tripled in children. Leaders in the medical field continue to stress the link between overconsumption of animal products and obesity, as well as the strong ties between a plant-based diet and healthier body mass index. School garden projects have made it part of their mission to fight obesity with knowledge by showing children the link between animal products and obesity and the power of eating plants to reduce obesity rates. Taking action in the garden will help youth to internalize information in order to make informed decisions about their diet and avoid developing bad eating habits that will be much harder to break later in life, thus increasing the health, longevity, and awareness of the next generation.
3. School garden projects help the community to eliminate food deserts.
Food deserts are a major issue affecting communities with low socioeconomic status (SES) and limited access to fresh, healthy foods. Teachers and students in low-income schools face the challenges of living in a food desert daily, where the food available is primarily fast-food and there are no grocery stores for miles. School garden projects facilitate the opportunity for children to gain access to healthy foods in spite of their location or SES. Projects set up by organizations and schools such as The University of Baltimore open up school garden projects to the community and encourage collaboration to help increase access to healthy food on a larger scale.
4. School garden projects promote responsibility and understanding of sustainability.
In addition to the surplus of health benefits, the vegan community saves a remarkable amount of water, emissions, and resources. According to the documentary Cowspiracy, “A vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life” every day. Enlightening children about the impact of their dietary choices have on the planet—the very thing they have been getting in touch with through their gardening project—is an opportunity that mother nature cannot miss.
5. School garden projects foster compassion and save countless animal lives.
Giving children first-hand experience with sustainably-sourced food, and explaining its benefits, will inspire them to ask questions and open up the conversation about the larger food system and those it affects. When presented with all the facts about nutrition, sustainability, and the inhumane treatment of animals used for food, younger generations will have the ability to make informed decisions about choosing a plant-based diet, lifestyle, and promoting a more compassionate world.
6. School garden projects instill confidence and validation in children.
America’s education system, often referred to as the Great Equalizer, is riddled with trite ideas of opportunity that often ignore the larger systemic issues that hold kids back in school such as stereotype threat and prescribed notions of who should do what. Stereotype threat is a phenomenon that has been shown recurringly in classroom settings, which causes girls and children of color to fear self-fulfilling prophecies about their gender or race stereotypes and inhibits performance in academics. The garden offers an environment free from the structured climate of the classroom—an equal playing field where everyone can succeed through hard work. School garden projects provide a space where students can gain confidence and see that with a little hard work, their capable hands can produce success.
7. School garden projects create a hands-on generation of practical activists.
Once America’s youth has been armed with the wealth of knowledge they are exposed to through school gardening projects, they can carry forth this awareness into the world with a deliberate sense of empowerment. The best part is that these kids have learned not to be afraid of getting their hands dirty to produce something beautiful and worthwhile. Whether it be a fresh tomato that has taken hard work and patience to cultivate, or a more sustainable, compassionate, and healthy lifestyle that they are excited to try, they will have the tools to make their garden flourish and share the fruits of their labor with the world.
Courtney Lodin is a VegNews Editorial Assistant with a passion for pirates, Redwoods, and all things furry.