Salad Greens. Broccoli. Carrots. Adults. Young children.
These words may not seem to go together, but in Pierce County, they are pairing up thanks to a program that is teaching adults and kids to like eating vegetablesand to grow them.
The Square Foot Nutrition Project, one of WSU Cooperative Extensions Food $ense programs, began teaching gardening and nutrition in 1998. That was when David Eson, coordinator of the project, introduced the idea to community gardeners in the City of Tacoma. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, the project helps food stamp eligible families learn about nutrition and gardening. In 1999, children from Tacoma Public Schools began participating in the project. The children are from kindergarten through fifth grade and enrolled in Title I schools, where 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Over 400 food stamp eligible adults currently are enrolled in the program. Since beginning to teach just community gardeners in Tacoma, the project has expanded to reach backyard gardeners in most of Pierce County. However, the adults can sometimes be a challenge to teach due to the diverse mix of ethnic groups gardening in Tacoma.
We have nutrition and gardening information posted in at least two languages in most of the five gardens. Most of our materials are translated into Russian, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Spanish, Eson says of the adult program.
In 1999, the Square Foot Nutrition Project teamed up with the Kitchen Garden Project, a project of Tahoma Food System, to provide limited income gardeners with gardening and nutrition information. Each year, nearly 100 new gardeners are enrolled in the project and receive newsletters and advice from Eson and WSU Master Gardeners. This coming year, adult classes will be offered to families who are participating in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. Classes will be taught during Family Nights and will give toddlers and adults the chance to learn about nutrition and gardening together.
Working with the curriculumGrowing with Plantswritten by county extension staff, Eson and the students teachers have introduced nutrition and gardening to nearly 2,300 students. The elementary schoolsMcKinley, Franklin, Boze, Larchmont, Delong, Lister, and Stanleyare all outfitted with garden sites averaging between 100 and 400 square feet.
This is not a new idea. It is an old idea that has been forgotten, Eson says of the school gardening program.
Students learn how to germinate seeds and identify different types of vegetables and salad greens. The kids start planting seeds in January and grow the plants indoors under grow lights. Then with some help from plastic covers in the gardens, they transplant their spring vegetables in March and April.
For Eson, helping kids understand how food is grownand that it doesnt simply come from a supermarket shelfis one of the programs biggest benefits. Gardening, he says, is also an excellent way to teach nutrition and different subject matters, such as art, math and history.
The kids actually taste a lot of common vegetables in our classes for the first time. The fresh vegetables they grow help the Food Guide Pyramid come alive. Besides, the kids have fun writing in their garden journals, mapping their gardens, recording plant growth and climate data, on and on.
And, its an experience that Eson will be expanding to three new schools, Whitman, Manitou Park and Jenny Reid (all also Title I), in 2002. The expanding project will have 50 classrooms involved each week from January to June. He receives help with teaching from WSU Master Gardener volunteers, and hopes to involve parents in the classroom in the future.