A Personal Experience with School Garden Projects

01 Aug 2013 05.38 am by K. Daniel

I remember growing up in Asia, during my primary school years the school faculty decided that it was time that students are more in touch with nature and to acknowledge where food comes from. Within a two year time span, they built several plots of vegetable patches and 3 enclosures which included chickens, doves, and other birds, as well as rabbits. This was built on the back lot of the school which previously was an empty grass lawn. Towards the front area, a small fish pond was built which housed various carps.

As much as it was an interesting experience, not to mention the pure joy and wonder when we little children went to saw the animals, it gave a very real appreciation of the natural environment. Well, ok, mostly the fluffy rabbits.

The vegetable patch was especially vital in that experience, as during scout practices which were compulsory at the time, we had mini cooking events involving whatever produce we had at the time, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and chillies, which was readily incorporated into omelettes, the eggs sourced from the chicken coop. Root and other hearty vegetables such as sweet potato and taro were made into soups and traditional Asian desserts.

Although hardly a new concept, the program back then was something revolutionary for the school, and gave me a lasting appreciation of sourcing foods and where does it come from. Perhaps one thing that I did regret was that the students did not have a hands on experience in growing and maintaining the garden ourselves, but rather it was largely maintained by the groundskeepers.

One parallel which I can draw on is in science class, where we were growing mung beans for an experiment. Every day before class we would gather up in front of the classroom where the little beans were grown in moist cotton buds, and exclaim our oohs and aahs as we see the little beans sprouting. Competitions were held amongst us students on whose beans sprouted fastest, and which plant grew tallest at the end of the experiment, somehow relating that whatever the plants did naturally were a direct result of our green thumbs.

If we had that on a larger scale, i.e. the vegetable patch, perhaps we could have revelled in the fruits of our labour (well, to be fair, the groundskeepers' labour).  And perhaps end up being healthier little tykes as well.

Papers being published on the effects of school gardens have found that children, regardless of age, who are exposed to gardening and other similar practices are more likely to eat their greens. Research done by the University of California on first grade gardeners found that children were more likely to taste products that they have grown themselves, although taste preference was the same. Another paper published in the journal Health Promotion Practice similarly concluded that middle school students' attitudes towards produce were more positive when exposed to garden-based education programs as it is often termed.

This is no doubt exciting news for parents, who through centuries have probably tried almost everything to get their offspring to eat their greens. And yellows, whites, reds, purples, and blacks. Eat all the colours of the rainbow is what they often say today. But again the published research does have this one disclaimer; growing vegetables does not change children's preferences, but rather gives them an inclination to be more adventurous with their taste buds. What this means in the long run is that it may influence future behaviour through habit, but does not directly change their physiology, the natural inclination for eating calorific foods.

So the take home message from this? Grow what you want your kids to eat, or at least attempt eating. Generally the presence of a vegetable garden in itself is opens up opportunities to be active, while learning beneficial habits which may be useful down the road. Moreover, they may pick up beneficial eating habits too. The same may not be the case when it comes to rabbits though.



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