Cultivating Health through School Gardens

Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBA ISD) is using gardening as a tool to improve student health. Thanks to SNAP-ED funding through the USDA and the Michigan Fitness Foundation, TBA ISD implements a program called LifeSPAN, which performs cooking and nutrition lessons year round in the classroom to increase students fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity levels. Currently, they’re running summer garden camps where kids partake in nutrition lessons, help in school gardens, and cook healthy meals using produce they harvest.

Terra Bogart, TBA ISD LifeSPAN Nutrition Educator, and Alice Bowe, TBA ISD Farm to School Americorps Vista Volunteer, are running the camps. Travelling throughout the region, they visit Northport and Buckley Schools teaching K-6 grade students all about gardening, cooking, and nutrition. The day is structured to provide both academic lessons and hands on experiences. Activities can include labelling plant parts, dissecting and comparing crops, or creating vegetable artwork. By planting, watering, and harvesting in the garden, kids become familiar with the varying needs of different plants. They also gain kitchen skills as they chop, peel, and measure ingredients for taste tests of garden fresh dishes.

TBA ISD is not alone in utilizing gardens to create a healthier student body. Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities has played a key catalyzing role in the Farm to School movement in Northwest Lower Michigan. In 2017, they released a Healthy Kids, Thriving Farms Report celebrating 15 years of Farm to School in the region. In fact, a growing body of evidence is encouraging schools around the nation to adopt gardens. Studies suggest that by nurturing crops, connecting to the environment, engaging in physical activity, working in teams, and socializing with peers, children may increase fruit and vegetable intake, academic achievement, well-being, self-confidence, and social and cultural cohesion. Short term, kids are more likely to try and eat produce if they helped grow it. Students with special academic, social, or behavioral needs may even find gardening an alternative means of expression and success away from the traditional classroom. Long term, kids have the potential to cultivate a more holistic definition of health as well as increased environmental responsibility.

With high levels of inactivity and low fruit and vegetable intake nationwide, it’s no wonder school gardens are increasing in popularity. If you’re interested in creating a school garden or implementing Farm-to-School initiatives, check out these wonderful resources from TBA ISD. They have learning activities, lesson plans, menu planning tools, cafeteria evaluation guides, and more!

Marissa Natzke is the Summer Health Intern working with Paula Martin, MS, RDN at Taste the Local Difference (TLD). As such, she is working to better understand the role local food has on community health through CSA worksite wellness and Building Healthy Community initiatives. She is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health and Dietetics at the University of Michigan. Contact her [email protected] or [email protected].

Paula Martin, MS, RDN with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities & Taste the Local Difference, will be co-presenting “Culinary Medicine: Cooking Up some CME & Brining a Community Together”  at the national conference for the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions on Thursday, January 24, 2019 in Maryland along with Kara Classens, RN and Dr. James Fox from Munson Healthcare & Alyson Kass from Shape Up North.  Contact her [email protected] or [email protected]

Co-written for the Northern Michigan Dietetic Association

McGinnis, M. (1989), Gardening as Therapy for Children with Behavioral Disorders. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 2: 87-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6171.1989.tb00366.x

Ohly, H., Gentry, S., Wigglesworth, R., Bethel, A., Lovell, R., & Garside, R. (2016). A systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: Synthesis of quantitative and qualitative evidence. BMC Public Health, 16 doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2941-0

Wansink, B. , Hanks, A. S. and Just, D. R. (2015), A plant to plate pilot: a cold‐climate high school garden increased vegetable selection but also waste. Acta Paediatr, 104: 823-826. doi: 10.1111/apa.13028