MCS students digging into gardening

By Brian Sweeney
Margaretville Central School students are earning green thumbs as part of the “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” People’s Research Garden Research Project.

The school is working in conjunction with the Cooperative Extension of Delaware County as part of a two-and-a-half year research project that also includes students from Deposit and Downsville schools.

In total, 15 school districts from across the state are involved in the program. Baseline data from the project will be utilized as part of a study encompassing information gathered from in a similar fashion from three other states.

Students at Deposit and Downsville began their gardening projects last year and MCS kids in grades 2-5 will be putting in a garden this year for the first time. Cooperative Extension is providing each school with four raised beds, soil, compost, garden tools, seeds and a garden toolkit.
The “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” People’s Garden School Pilot Project is a Cooperative Extension partnership involving more than 4,000 elementary students who are creating vegetable and fruit gardens in 54 low-income schools in four pilot states.

The project will examine the effects of school gardens on the students’ fruit and vegetables consumption and associated educational conclusions.

Schools have been assigned to either the intervention group (gardens started last spring), or the control group (gardens starting in late spring 2013).  The first year of data collection has involved second, fourth and fifth grade classes. The same students will continue their participation during follow school year.

The goals of the project include:
• Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption - Engage youth enrolled in high-poverty schools to increase access to, and consumption of, fruit and vegetables through hands-on learning about growing food.
• Empower Youth in Their Communities - Empower youth to use and share their new interests, knowledge and skills to grow and sustain gardens and choose healthy foods at school, home and in their communities.
• Contribute Toward a Sustainable Environment and Food System - Develop children’s, youths’ and educators’ appreciation for the public health, environmental and social benefits gardens provide to local communities (i.e., physical activity, connection to nature, fresh food production and social networks).
• Build a Nationwide Network - Build a nationwide network of Cooperative Extension educators and volunteers working across disciplines to leverage existing federal, state, and local investments in programs like SNAP-Ed, 4-H/Youth Development, Master Gardener Volunteers and community-based horticulture programs through a common garden-based learning program.

In addition to setting up and planting their gardens, schools will assist in collecting data as well as delivery of educational lessons and related activities presented by teachers. 
A corresponding part of the project involves engaging food service and physical education staff to create an integrated approach to improving students’ nutrition and health. Local Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers work with students and teachers to create and maintain the gardens.

Families, caregivers and other community members are also invited to take a role in the by promoting good eating practices, learning about nutrition concepts and trying out new recipes.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service is funding this project.