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.