Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Program

I have been asked to provide testimony to the Oregon Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities House Committee, that describes the importance of the School Garden Component of House Bill 2800. The bill supports activities that would encourage local school districts to purchase Oregon Agricultural products for school lunches, as well as to support garden-based educational activities.

Below, for those who are interested, is the testimony that I will deliver on April 2, 2009.

April 2, 2009
Chair Clem, and members of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities House Committee:
My name is Gail Langellotto, and I am the statewide coordinator of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program.
I am here today, to discuss how the school garden component of House Bill 2800 is important to promoting healthy food choices in young children. Specifically, studies have shown that children who participate in school garden activities are more willing to taste vegetables, are more knowledgeable about nutrition, increase their fruit and vegetable consumption and tend to prefer fruits and vegetables more than children who don’t have the opportunity to learn by gardening.
What we have seen in our own work in school gardens, right here in Oregon, supports what is reported in the scholarly literature.
Some of the children that Master Gardeners and others work with in school gardens come from families who grow their own food - many do not.
As the children begin to work in the garden, it is not uncommon to hear ‘I wouldn’t eat anything that doesn’t come from a grocery store’. However, the children are both surprised and excited to discover that this is how their food supply begins. Better yet – when the children learn that they will be eating food that they, themselves, will grow – the smiles and lip-smacking and pretend nibbling are an undeniable endorsement – growing your own food is good.
At Yaquina View Elementary school, 1st and 2nd graders plant seeds in the classroom in April, transfer their seedlings to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Garden in late May, and harvest the food to take to the local Food Share in September.
Each fall, Master Gardeners teach a nutrition class, where the children get to see, feel, smell, and taste the harvested vegetables and herbs. Who would’ve guessed that beets and beet greens have been ranked as favorites of 1st and 2nd graders? Carrots, peas, beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also quite popular. Nasturtium petals, on the other hand, didn’t rank high on their list - too peppery!
The children love the hands-on process of growing food. From the beginning, the children know that they are growing food to help others. This may be one of their first community service lessons. In September, as the children were harvesting and packaging their produce, one student said that he would like to keep what he had helped to grow - but he also understood that others in the community were hungry and this food would help them. May I remind you that these incredibly thoughtful and compassionate words were spoken by a 2nd grader.
Another child was so excited to show off his garden and his gardening skills, that he called his grandfather, 130 miles away in Portland, and excitedly told him that he HAD to come down for the garden harvest. A proud grandfather beamed and took pictures, as his grandson picked the vegetables and herbs that he helped to grow.
With the help of a greenhouse, 5th graders at the Yaquina View Elementary school propagated vegetables, which were then sold at the Newport Farmer’s Market. The funds raised went towards a field trip to the Fruit Loop in Hood River – once again re-enforcing the fact that a healthy and vibrant local food system is important to healthy kids and healthy communities. These 5th graders were able to develop their gardening and their entrepreneurial skills, as well as to expand their appreciation of food production.
Although the examples I provided today are from an elementary school in Lincoln County, we have seen similar, positive results in many schools across the state. In programs supported by Master Gardener volunteers, children as young as 3 years old have been introduced to gardening. From preschool to 5th grade – the results are undeniable – working in the garden and growing their own food ignites children’s excitement about and acceptance of a diverse array of vegetables and fruits in their diet. It is at this young age that patterns of healthy eating are often established.
As an employee of the state, I am not able to explicitly endorse HB2800, but I hope that the examples and testimony that I have provided speak to the importance of school gardens and the school garden component of HB2800, to healthy kids and healthy communities.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
Gail Langellotto
Statewide Coordinator - OSU Master Gardener Program