Youth Changing The World
by Greg Ellis-Valencia - One Cool Earth, Executive Director
We often overlook the power of youth to change the world. Michael and Adriana are two students who represents the force of change that a few kids can create during recess.
Adriana and Micheal got involved when their teacher, Jim Roether, formed a lunch-time club--The Green Team--in partnership with One Cool Earth. Micheal and a few of his peers set out to change their school's environmental impact. Over the course of the year, The Green Team learned from One Cool Earth's educator and Mr. Roether about watersheds, and how humans impact their environment through waste and pollution. During the school year, several guest presenters visited the class, including County Supervisor Frank Mecham, Central Coast Salmon Enhancement's water testing professionals, Mayor Steve Martin, and a representative of a hydroponics company.
Undaunted by the problems they saw, Adriana, Michael and their team set forth with fresh ideas and optimism. Early in the year, they launched a compost and recycling program, bringing recycling to their campus. Every day at lunch, Adriana, Michael and their classmates would take turns standing at the lunch line, collecting uneaten fruits and vegetables to serve. The food they collected was fed to worms, which in turn produced compost for the student garden. During class once each week, students would collect recyclables from each classroom, sorting it into the proper dumpster.
Michael, Adriana and their team realized that styrofoam lunch trays were a big problem on campus. Although they were inexpensive for the school to buy, they took up a lot of space in the dumpster and increased waste hauling costs. And styrofoam requires hundreds of years to break down after being useful for only 15 minutes. To demonstrate how many trays the school used, the Green Team began collecting the trays. Once they'd accumulated several thousand, they stacked them, and using lumber and adobe, made a temporary structure to display both the problem of waste and also the solution of 'upcycling', or converting waste into a useful product.
The Green Team's hard work did not go unnoticed. The Green Team's school was awarded a grant by the local US Green Building Council for their work on recycling. The Food Services Director, in part due to the students bringing the styrofoam trays to his attention, replaced them with recyclable trays. To wrap up the year, the Green Team presented their projects to the community and were featured in the local Telegram Tribune (click to read the article).
Through EarthGenius's programs at over 21 schools, students are showing their leadership. 17 schools have begun recycling and composting programs to divert waste from the landfill and svae their schools money. Other schools have grown hundreds of native trees to give away and plant in the community. Five schools have installed rainwater catchment systems, and several others have installed drought tolerant gardens. From water savings, to waste, to revegetation and sustainable landscaping, students are taking responsibility for their campuses. Let's continue to value them and give them the space to do what they care about.
Gardens Changing Health
by Greg Ellis-Valencia - One Cool Earth Executive Director
Meet Helena. Helena is a real student in Paso Robles (we've changed her name here). Helena loves working in the garden, picking flowers (and eating some) and reading. Helena goes to a school where most of children belong to low-income families. By the age of 20, one in three of Helena's classmates will be overweight, and four in ten will have type II diabetes. Helena's lifespan is predicted to be shorter than that of her parents' generation.
But Helena is changing her odds. As a partner with One Cool Earth's EarthGenius program, her school provides access to garden-based education. Our EarthGenius program addresses three critical barriers to childhood health:
1. Overcoming Neophobia
Neophobia is the fear of trying new foods. As any parent knows, it can severely limit a child's diet. School gardens grow student curiosity, familiarity, and acceptance, providing a connection to their food and a supportive environment to experiment with eating. We've seen youth try and like all kinds of new foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
2. Making Healthy Food Cool
Youth watch and learn from adults and peers. Our program provides passionate and talented educators to model good eating habits. We also take health home by inviting parents to participate in educational garden parties, hosting family cooking nights, sending food and recipes home, and broadcasting the importance of diet and health to the community.
3. Teaching Food Skills
Children are more able to recognize the top 10 food brands than the the 10 most common vegetables. From basic skills, like being able to recognize, choose, request, and eat healthy foods, to more advanced skills, like preparing a kale salad or black bean tostada, our program improves student self-efficacy to eat good food and change their own health.
And the results are compelling: on-going, hands-on gardening programs have been shown to triple student vegetable consumption.
Gardens Changing Health
by Mariah Marten-Ray - EarthGenius Garden Educator
One lunchtime recess, I was conversing with a one-on-one educator for a special education student, Paul (we've changed his name here), who is fascinated by biology and the garden. Paul always corrects my terminology about plants--he says, “Ms. Mariah, do you mean female and male kiwis? It’s not correct to call them boy and girl”. I’m the FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member at three PRJUSD schools, and I have the great joy of exploring school gardens with so many bright children like Paul. I express to the one-on-one educator how exciting it will be for him to get to harvest what he has planted come spring time! “You would think that”, she begins, “but I’ve never seen him touch a fruit or a vegetable. He only eats pretzels for lunch”. When I offered for Paul to pick and try some of the lettuce, he politely declined.
Neophobia, the fear of trying new foods, is a leading cause of mealtime battles with children. A child with special needs may face even more specific barriers leading them to have a complex relationship with food. For example, it is common for children with autism spectrum disorder to have heightened sensitivities to particular tastes, textures, or colors. Promoting positive nutrition behaviors in special needs children is an important part of their growth into confident, happy, and healthy adults. Partnering with Mrs. Keefer’s learning center, a special needs classroom, we began a creative writing food journaling program that gives kids fun opportunities to read, write, cook, and try new fruits and vegetables in a supportive outdoor learning environment. The following is a story written by a student about passion fruit. The prompt was to give passion fruit a new fun name and origin to entice the reader’s appetite:
Slimy Fish Egg Fruit
Once upon a time in a land far far away slimy fish egg fruit floated through outer space and into the ocean. Seahorse farmers looked inside of the fruit and said it looked like fish eggs and decided to grow the ugly fruit because maybe fish would grow. Fish did not grow out of the eggs. They were still happy because when they ate the fruit it was sour and delicious.
Journaling also allows time for the children to reflect on their feelings about trying new things and techniques they use to overcome fears so they can apply these tools to new situations. Paul, who used to only eat pretzels wrote, “I was nervous to try the passion fruit. It looked like guts on the inside. I gave it a shot because it was rare and now it is my number 1 favorite fruit.” Now Paul and his mom are growing a passion fruit vine at their house! Another student read to the class, “The first time I tried mushrooms we put them on my favorite food ever, hotdogs, and I took a deep breath. Now I just take a deep breath every time my mom wants me to try something new.”
We believe that small nibbles out in the garden can lead to a lifelong love of fruit and vegetables.
Gardens Changing Hearts
by Miranda Beal, Volunteer Manager and Garden Educator
In the first weeks of becoming a Garden Club Facilitator with One Cool Earth, I had to figure out how to recruit students to spend their lunchtime hour in the garden. How can I excite students to depart their time playing ball with friends and move into a garden which might be unfamiliar to them? Recreation and enjoyment is crucial to the well-being of all children. The truth is that enjoyment and pleasure can come from a variety of sources in the garden. For example, through connection to nature, building social relationships and the gratitude of nurturing and watching something grow (Simovska 2008). After making heart shaped bird feeders, salads, and garden bracelets, I have a reoccurring group of six 5th grade girls who spend their WHOLE lunchtime in the garden.
School gardens serves as a “safe place” for students. Studies show that large numbers of students report “that they feel ‘calm,’ ‘safe,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘relaxed’ in the school garden” (Habib & Doherty, 2007). I’m serious when I say they stay their whole lunch. The group of girl bring their lunch in the garden instead of the cafeteria. Even if the announcement about Garden Lunch Club doesn’t play in the morning announcements, I know they will be walking in the garden gate. I give them time to eat, socialize, connect with their friends, and then I lead a lesson where they still participate in those three things.
They are even more excited to eat the fresh vegetables that they grew last month!! It’s a wonderful feeling developing a place at a school where kids can play, feel comfortable, and be themselves.