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School Gardens - Connecting Youth With Nutrition & Nature

Investing in early childhood nutrition is a surefire strategy. The returns are incredibly high". - Anne M. Mulcahy

 The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group

When Freida Baker, CEO of The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) of Montgomery, Alabama, met with me, our thoughts for an editorial opportunity began with a discussion around the continued importance of child nutrition and education. We decided to explore the topic of school garden projects and recipe planning to teach nutrition, as well as the aspects of reinforcing collaborative community development, reaching beyond the box to establish or revive school gardens and indoor hydroponic solutions on campus and in urban centers. The programs are not just limited to cities but also offer nutritional education and outreach through Cooperative Extension and 4-H groups in rural areas. 

The Child Welfare Policy & Practice Group

Creating a Community Platform 

Growing up eating fresh foods from a garden was a core principle of being raised in the countryside. Learning to cook began when I was young, fondly recalling my mom asking me to go to the garden and pick the veggies for that day’s salad and dinner plate. I would forage through each row, carefully pulling red lettuce, cherry tomatoes, heirloom carrots, and colorful peppers. Placing them in a colander - running to the back kitchen window - yelling through the screen, “Order up!” Then, I would return back to the dirt for potatoes and green beans to go with our baked chicken.  

Community farming platforms were foundational and derived from exposure to 4-H, The Grange, and local food festivals and roasts. Community engagement begins with harvest fairs and festivals celebrating our favorite foods, which are hand-picked from the land where we grew our products. Learning about nutrition from our grandparents and parents as we cooked and developed our homegrown recipes.  

As the conversation progressed, we shared stories in common. We pondered creating project-based learning systems to address the advancement of better child nutrition and progress. Integrating those systems could evolve into a peer mentorship model among the student body or even carry into the community as it once did for us as adolescents. Sharing nutritional information in the form of gardening, food safety, and planting-based recipes - together with the learners, they could organically create dishes among themselves to share with friends and family. In turn, the students create access to high-value nutritious foods on a regular basis. As the program grows, it could lead to more effective, longer-lasting health-based practices. 

The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group

Building Recipe Gardens To Teach Nutrition 

Every health and nutrition program should begin with food and menu planning when choosing seeds for a school or community garden. This empowers the student to work backward from producing healthy dishes to share at a harvest festival. Randomly selecting seeds for a garden may not produce the best results from which to learn. Allowing the learner to choose what they grow that aligns with their menu. 

Educators teach nutrition in the garden, which is focused on health, vitamins, and fiber, as students tend to it with love and responsibility. The older students teach stewardship in the garden. Instilling responsibility in daily job duties - keeping the food alive.

Mrs. Baker emphasized, "Projects like school gardens are welcome activities for children in foster care. Those children and youth are, regrettably, at an increased risk for poor health and behavioral outcomes."  She added, "That any time school personnel can include foster children in gardening or other collaborative activities it serves the children and the school well."


Heirloom Squash

Alabama School Garden & Community Development Grants 

The State of Alabama offers organizations financial assistance and grants in nutrition education and school garden programs. The grants do not exclude conservation education projects or outdoor classroom programs. Most grants infuse capital into STEM resources for educators teaching health, food safety, nutrition development, and promoting better health and wellness. There are eight grants available to educators and community-based organizations seeking to build an educational practice, learning nutritional value through reading and creating simple recipes that correlate with growing healthy foods. The following organizations offer grants and solutions to help curb the nutritional deficit. 

School Garden Grants

  1. Alabama RC&D Council GrantsThe Resource Conservation and Development Program helps people protect and develop their economic, natural, and social resources in ways that improve their area's economy, environment, and quality of life. There are nine RC&D Councils across Alabama, and many provide funding for conservation education projects such as outdoor classroom development—$ 250.00 - $2500.00. 

  2. Legacy Grants—Legacy funds environmental education annually through the Environmental Education Grant Program. Funds may be used for outdoor classrooms or outdoor environmental projects - $2500.00 - $10,000. 

  3. Birmingham Audubon Society - The Birmingham Audubon Society (BAS) offers mini-grants of up to $1,000 to support conservation education in the Birmingham area. Funds may be used to cover expenses for field trips, student transportation, classroom speakers, and projects such as school wildlife and butterfly gardens, bird feeding stations, and outdoor classrooms - up to $1000. 

  4. Alabama Power Foundation Grant Program - These grants help schools build classrooms so students can participate in outdoor learning. Students to Stewards awards two types of grants on a rotating annual basis. Check the website for application deadlines. Grants are available up to $7500.  

  5. HAT STEDTRAIN-STEDTRAIN is a Committee of the Huntsville Association of Technical Societies (HATS) that administers a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Seed Grant program. The program provides up to $2,500 in funding to an educator for innovative hands-on classroom projects that will stimulate children’s interest in science and technology—$250-$2500.  

  6. Alabama Wildlife Federation—The Alabama Wildlife Federation’s (AWF) Outdoor Classroom (OC) Grant Program provides financial assistance and faculty support to schools that wish to create effective outdoor classroom sites on their school grounds for hands-on learning opportunities. Grants up to $1,000 are available for schools enrolled in the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program. 

  7. The Dekko Foundation for Limestone County, Alabama - The Dekko Foundation will consider grant proposals from public and private schools in Limestone County, Alabama. The Foundation focuses its grants on programs that prepare students for life and work, create an awareness of a child's natural curiosity, and utilize a curriculum that is cooperative, interdisciplinary, and integrated with technology. 

  8. The Sugar Association - STEM Resources for Teaching Nutrition.


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