Will school gardens help fight obesity?
“All I need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family,” sang the second grade class of the Tuckahoe School on Earth Day. The school, in Southampton, New York, recently won a grant to build a community garden on school grounds, one of five across Suffolk County awarded funds through the Heart Links Project of Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Tuckahoe students from kindergarten through eighth grade are enjoying the immeasurable experience of getting a close look at where food comes from at a tender age. The more time I spent observing and talking to teachers, parents and children at their garden groundbreaking, the more it became clear that gardens such as these, and bringing communities together around gardening, are small but sure steps toward combating our national childhood obesity epidemic.
The Heart Links gardens are part of a concerted effort to help low-income residents across Suffolk County learn how to grow food and gain better access to healthy food. The grants cover all necessary purchases for the gardens.
The Tuckahoe garden is the only one of the five located at a school. In addition to serving local residents, Tuckahoe School students and teachers will maintain one long plot throughout the year. The garden’s ten other plots will be split in half and maintained by twenty local families that meet the income standards mandated by Heart Links.
Lucky for the folks at Tuckahoe, they have a seasoned professional to guide them through their first year of gardening. Scott Chasky, of Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, where he has run a CSA for more than 20 years, is donating his time and seeds. In addition, to ensure proper management, Tuckahoe developed a Garden Committee. I spoke with garden manager Barbara Imperiale, a third-grade Tuckahoe teacher, who said she wants to use the garden to, “create a healthy school environment and to help children better know where our food comes from.”
After the ceremony, I had the opportunity to speak with members of one family that was granted a plot in the garden. Araceli Becerra, a young mother, was beaming with excitement as Geraldine Soto, a Pre-K teacher assistant, translated Becerra’s Spanish for me. Becerra was very excited to have this opportunity for her family, and told me she wants to, “teach her kids how to take care of plants and see them pick vegetables and not always get them at the supermarket.” As many mothers can attest to, Becerra said that she sometimes has had to come up with ways to hide veggies in her children’s food, and so she was, “excited about them actually eating vegetables now.”
The garden will soon supply the school cafeteria with fresh, local foods that the students will have a hand in growing. Coordinating this effort is Matt Doris, Tuckahoe’s chef and kitchen manager. He views the first year of garden as a trial year, and told me that they plan to grow herbs, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. He will help maintain the garden in the summer and will can tomatoes for the coming school year. Doris is excited that the garden will create awareness and provide an interdisciplinary space for students to learn. There is no doubt that the Tuckahoe community garden is one small step toward a big change.