There's a lot to be said about American kids and nutrition, and much of it isn't pretty. But there are signs that the pendulum in slowly swinging back in favor of sensible diets and healthy lifestyles. One such example can be seen at Timber Trace Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens, which recently accepted a $2,000 grant from Whole Kids Foundation to support the school's six on-campus classroom gardens.
"That's a lot of money for an elementary school," principal Kathy Pasquariello said of the grant, which comes by way of the child-nutrition-centric program founded by Whole Foods Market in 2011.
The money will be used to grow the existing garden program with a goal of eventually incorporating the gardens' yields into the school's lunchroom cafeteria. Students who work on the gardens already have the opportunity to eat the produce -- which includes carrots, tomatoes, greens, and other crops -- but an expansion may open up that option to even more students. Pasquariello said the hands-on projects integrate science with a social aspect, giving the kids a tangible connection to their food.
"It's been a really great experience," she said, explaining that being so involved in the process helps kids to get more excited about eating veggies. "How much more motivating can it be?"
Last fall, when students successfully grew their first tomato, they shared it with Pasquariello. She took the orb home and photographed the process of slicing and preparing it and later shared the images with the students so they could see how much she appreciated the gift.
Surprisingly enough, Pasquariello said the gardens -- which recently acquired a rain barrel as a sustainable means of irrigation -- are still operational in the summer ("There is life in the garden," she said). Many of the school's "after care" students are active in the garden. In turn, many of those students attend a summer camp program at the school which allows them to water the garden and keep the heartier crops going through the tough season.
The educator credits Timber Trace teachers and staff for instigating the green project, and said Whole Foods Market has been "a great partner" in other green/nutritional projects at the elementary school, helping to expose students to new foods. An expanded garden program could help to open up that possibility to even more kids.
"Academics are so important," Pasquariello said. "But it's also important for students to become well rounded."