Gardening for the Next Generation | Civil Eats

Gardening for the Next Generation

Gardening is hot, and I don’t mean just sweaty work in July while you hoe the purslane and harvest beans, squash, and zucchini.  Working the land is a trendy topic from web-rooted FarmVille to the White House to the written word.

Part of the reason for the new interest in the simple but yet so intensely complex act of growing food is that we have a clear problem and myriad solutions. The problem: obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year. As recently reported in “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges our country has faced. With 1 in 3 US children age 2-19 overweight or obese, we need to end this trend and fortunately, many organizations, initiatives, and resources aim to solve child obesity in a generation.

Part of the solution starts with students and a seed. The benefits of gardening are far beyond the average 270 calories burned while digging in the dirt. The Royal Horticulture Society reported in new research that “as well as helping children lead happier, healthier lives today, gardening helped them acquire the essential skills they need to fulfill their potential in a rapidly-changing world and make a positive contribution to society as a whole.”

Our society craves a connection to a sense of place, to where our food comes from, to the community that used to surround a meal. We are so far removed from agriculture that over 20 million people daily use a mouse instead of a hoe to harvest on FarmVille. While living in DC during snowpocalypse 2010, I achieved level 30 in FarmVille in a few short weeks—albeit extremely frustrated at the ridiculousness of never actually ‘harvesting’ the farm animals and collecting chocolate milk from a brown cow.

The Obama Administration is working to get us to do more than milk virtual cows. The First Lady rolled out the new Let’s Move website earlier this week and the Take Action section suggests “helpful tips and step-by-step strategies for families, schools and communities to help kids be more active, eat better, and grow up healthy” specifically promoting community gardens, school gardens and Farm to School programs for elected officials , schools, and community leaders.

This action flows well from the White House Childhood Obesity Taskforce Report that recommended both Farm to School and school gardens. To that end, there are three current rows that need hoeing that you can help with:

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  1. Policy: Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Once every 5 years, Congress addresses the legislation that determines what school children eat in the cafeteria. The time is now. You can help create more Farm to School programs and school gardens.
  1. Practice: FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps Farm to School and School Garden Program. The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the health and prosperity of vulnerable children while investing in the next generation of farmers. I am proud to be one of the co-Founders of FoodCorps working on the development of the program thanks to generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and AmeriCorps.
  1. Prose: “How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers” by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle. This book just landed in my mailbox so check back soon on Civil Eats for a review.

Now let’s move kids and adults from the screen to the soil. Ready. Set. Garden!

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Debra Eschmeyer, Co-Founder and Program Director of FoodCorps, Farmer, and Communications and Outreach Director of the National Farm to School Network, has 15 years of farming and sustainable food system experience. Working from her organic farm in Ohio, Debra oversees the FoodCorps program development for service members working on school gardens and Farm to School while deciphering policy and building partnerships to strengthen the roots of FoodCorps. She also manages a national media initiative on school gardens, farmers’ markets and healthy corner stores. Read more >

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