Local Gardening Resources Inform New Nutrition Curriculum

By: Andrea Lindsay, AmeriCorps VISTA member at The Campus Kitchens Project ….. 

TG cover photoOne of my first projects as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with The Campus Kitchens Project was to develop a garden-based nutrition education curriculum, pulling together best practices from Campus Kitchens around the country as well as my own experience and research on student gardens around the country. The Campus Kitchens Project is a national organization that empowers student volunteers to fight hunger in their community by transforming unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants and farmers’ markets into meals that are delivered to local agencies serving those in need. Each Campus Kitchen also goes beyond meals by using food as a tool to address the root causes of hunger and poverty, and many Campus Kitchens have developed innovative garden programs. Some partner with on- or off-campus farms to glean healthy produce for their meals; others work with younger students to show them where their food comes from and empower them to make healthy choices; some are even building accessible planters to give older adults the chance to grow their own food.

After talking with Campus Kitchens in Boston, Washington, Texas and Minnesota about their gardening and nutrition education programs, I began exploring local resources here in DC to learn more about garden education. Connecting with the Growing Garden Teachers network as well as organizations like DC Greens and City Blossoms was a great opportunity to learn from experienced garden teachers and observe experiential outdoor education in action. Combining best practices from all of these sources, as well as my own experiences starting a campus garden and working with various garden education nonprofits before my time with The Campus Kitchens Project, I developed a set of six lessons as well as a teaching guide and a guide to starting and maintaining an educational garden space.

The combined curriculum, “Sowing Seeds for Healthy Kids,” inspires kids to make healthy choices by helping them discover where their food comes from and explore the food system from seed to plate. While it was designed for older elementary students, it can be adapted for younger or older audiences. Each of the six lessons in the curriculum includes an integrated discussion of gardening and nutrition topics and a variety of additional resources. Take-home recipes and family newsletters for each lesson provide an opportunity to reinforce the lesson concepts at home and try fun new snacks or activities. Elements like the newsletters and lessons focused on the food environment and food traditions emphasize that healthy eating and food access are issues that students can address on a community level as well. The teaching guide not only provides additional activity and resource suggestions, but also emphasizes core teaching principles like experiential learning and engaging with diverse cultural backgrounds.  “Sowing Seeds for Healthy Kids” also comes with a pre-test, post-test and guide to evaluating your program. We welcome adaptations of the lessons, activities, recipes and newsletters to suit your particular community, and we hope that anyone who uses the core elements of “Sowing Seeds” will send their outcome evaluations to info@campuskitchens.org. We look forward to hearing how you put this curriculum to use!