Participants at a popular boot camp session on "Wellness Programs in Your School" at the AFT TEACH conference in July learned not only about how to provide healthy meals for students and the positive effects of growing healthy foods, but they also left with 200 seed packets to create their own gardens back home.
The session, led by several AFT members, included discussion about the benefits of farm-to-school programs for students, including why school gardening can decrease behavior problems and increase academic achievement. The packets, donated by the Hart Seed Company, will help the educators create gardens with indoor plant containers or small outdoor patches.
Participants also had a chance to become familiar with tower gardens—vertical devices that can be used indoors to grow flowers, fruits or vegetables from air and mist, without the use of soil. Two attendees won their own tower gardens in a raffle and are excited about using them this school year.
One winner, Angela Noll, teaches at Highland Elementary School in Columbia Heights, Minn. The school has a community garden that offers hands-on teaching opportunities—but only during the months that permit outdoor gardening. A member of the Columbia Heights Federation of Teachers, Noll is excited to get suggestions from her students on how to use the tower garden in her classroom. She plans to incorporate her tower into students' "passion projects," where students develop a project that personally interests them. She also anticipates conducting many science experiments with plants and grass in the near future.
"The sky is the limit" for what students want to do, she says. Noll also hopes her students will taste-test the different vegetables they grow and experiment by adding them to salads to improve the nutritional quality of their meals.
The other winner, Evelyn Ciaburri from the Meriden (Conn.) Federation of Teachers, teaches in an urban community where the cost of produce is too high for many families. By placing a tower garden in her classroom, she hopes her students at Israel Putnam Elementary School will be able to avoid a diet consisting only of processed foods by growing their own healthy snacks.
Most of her students do not have gardens in their backyards, but Ciaburri plans to use the tower garden to expose them to something new and possibly inspire them to become farmers, chefs or scientists. She also plans to collaborate with the school's physical education teacher to teach healthy eating habits. "It's a win-win," she says. Ciaburri is equally excited for her students to "make salads, snack on strawberries, or put classroom-grown cilantro in guacamole for a treat!"