The challenge was not to get the middle-school students to eat their school-grown produce, but to take time to wash the vegetables first.
Students at Lebanon’s Seven Oaks Middle School started their organic vegetable gardens last year, with the help of the school’s food service director, teachers, OSU Master Gardeners, and Samaritan Hospital administrators. They all came together with the goal to improve their community’s health and eating habits by growing food for their own school meals.
Sheryl Casteen, an OSU Master Gardener volunteer, has been a driving force in this Edible Education Endeavor. “An objective was to train kids to eat better, but that was not a hurdle,” she said. “They ate everything and loved the taste of cucumbers and lettuce leaves fresh from the garden.”
The words “edible” and “education” are seldom used in the same sentence. But lately, nutrition education is blossoming in schoolyard teaching gardens and cafeteria cooking classes across Oregon.
Iris Carrasco, an OSU nutrition educator in Linn County, leads after-school classes at the Albany Boys and Girls Club. She invited a Master Gardener to help set up a gardening club for the kids, asked for donations from a local nursery, and worked weekends to prepare 15 raised beds.
“The kids are genuinely interested,” said Carrasco. “Some are intrigued by the bugs, some love being out in the sun, others like to smell the flowers or get their hands in the dirt. All enjoy growing vegetables they can take home and share with their families.”
In Jackson County, OSU Extension youth specialist Anne Manlove discovered that learning to cook healthy meals can be just as popular as after-school sports. Her nontraditional 4-H cooking club drew 21 elementary and middle school students to the Extension office in Central Point for seven weeks. The kids made their own calzone, fruit crisps, bran muffins, and overcame “fear factor” foods such as eggplant parmesan and spinach smoothies.
“Parents reported that their kids are now more confident in the kitchen, cook healthy recipes at home, and even wash their hands more often,” Manlove said.
Interest in edible education is growing. OSU nutrition educators and horticulture faculty have joined forces to create a research-based curriculum for early elementary, based on the notion of “garden-enhanced nutrition education.”
“The research proves what is already happening in practice,” said OSU horticulturist Gail Langellotto, who helped design the curriculum. “Garden-based activities positively affect children’s knowledge of nutrition and most importantly, their willingness to eat fruit and vegetables.”
Washed or not.