Digging into Gardens
GROWING HEALTHY YOUTH, a School Garden Education Program, was founded in 2005 by Lesley Stiles and Stephanie Jacob with the creation of the Troy Spencer Memorial Organic Garden. Three more gardens followed: the Kaiser College Park Organic Garden, the Kaiser Diablo Community Day School Organic Garden and the Bridge Organic Garden. Kaiser Permanente and the PTSA organizations at Pleasant Hill Middle School and College Park High School have been generous sponsors since 2005. Other community partners have included Contra Costa County Farmers’ Markets, Allied Waste Inc., the Pleasant Hill Community Foundation and Orchard Nursery.
In 2008, Slow Food Delta Diablo became a valued partner, securing an Analon Cookware grant to further cooking and tasting programs at the schools, and matching grants at local nurseries. In 2010, the National Fragile X Foundation became our fiscal partner in tandem with Kaiser Permanente.
At each school site, students tend the gardens. They plant, maintain and harvest three seasonal plantings. In addition, various science, art, and foods classes use the gardens for lessons. At College Park High School the Biology classes have undertaken a composting partnership with the cafeteria to compost kitchen waste. The produce harvested from each garden feeds the students; incorporated into cafeteria lunches and cooking demonstrations and tastings offered in classrooms and school-wide. Recipes are posted online and available to students to foster family involvement.
At three of our schools, we serve high risk populations. Diablo Community Day School is the program for expelled students throughout central Contra Costa County. Gardening time is a privilege earned and teaches impulse control, pride of ownership and marketable skills in addition to the nutritional benefits so sorely needed. At College Park High School and the Bridge Transition Program, our garden stewards are special education students and their participation has greatly expanded their horizons.
Growing Healthy Youth and Slow Food Delta Diablo feel strongly that school gardens are vital. UC Berkeley just published the results of a three year study comparing students exposed to garden education programs with those who were not involved. The students involved in gardens made healthier lunchtime food choices. And that is only the beginning.