From Garden to Table
‘Teaching Gardens’ growing at schools across the diocese
By Mary Lou Kilian North Country Catholic
Children at Catholic schools across the diocese are getting their hands dirty on the way to keeping their bodies healthy as they take part in “Teaching Gardens: Healthy Food from Seed to Table.”
Nine elementary schools are sharing a $39,400 grant from Fidelis Care, the New York State Catholic Health Plan, to conduct the program.
Among the goals of the “garden to table” experience are:
• to provide a firsthand experience of the parts of a plant and the role of each part in order to select and properly incubate and grow a healthy plant to maturity;
• to provide an experience of building and preparing a garden for planting;
• to nurture and grow a garden from seed to mature plant;
• to understand the difference between organic gardening and the use of chemicals;
• to relate the growth of vegetables as part of a healthy diet as a component to avoid obesity;
• to experience the vegetables grown as part of a real meal in the cafeteria or equivalent setting;
• to reinforce good nutrition as a major component of a preventive health program.
Karen Donahue, assistant superintendent of schools, is the diocesan program coordinator. Among the ways she has assisted the schools is by placing group orders for GrowLabs, which allowed the students to begin the planting process during the winter, and by offering advice about resources available for the project.
The schools “are creating a learning garden that will provide healthy food for the cafeteria and family dinner table,” Mrs. Donahue said. “Through Common Core based hands-on experiences students are developing life-long expertise and skills in consumer gardening.
“Culminating events will take place at each location and focus on locally identified activities such as family events that showcase the ‘fruits of our labor,’” Mrs. Donahue said. This might be “a community dinner event featuring vegetables from the garden, a family fun night that features salsa grown and made by the students or expanding the food service program offerings to include vegetables from the garden.”
At the schools
Each of the schools was asked to select a grade or mix of students to take the lead in constructing and maintaining a teaching garden.
At Trinity Catholic School in Massena each of the grades is responsible for growing one or two of the selected vegetables: asparagus, rhubarb, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans and herbs.
Father Donald Manfred, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, offered a plot of land next to the church and the local Home Depot donated gardening tools for the children.
Over the summer, families will tend the plants with the expectation that the vegetables will be canned and frozen. In the fall, the food will be served in the cafeteria.
Trinity students will be asked to submit a recipe using their vegetables and will vote on favorite recipes which could become a permanent part of the cafeteria’s food offerings.
At Holy Family School in Malone, Jaime Pelkey has been serving as the garden coordinator.
So far, the Holy Family gardeners have secured a location outside the school and reached out to Bonesteel’s Garden Center, owned by a family with children at Holy Family.
Mr. Bonsteel has offered education session on basic gardening facts for the faculty.
The middle schools students took a field trip to the garden center and planted a variety of seeds that will be stored in Bonesteel's Greenhouse until the garden beds are made.
“Our plan is to have 12 raised beds and plant corn on the perfect spot in our new ‘outdoor classroom!’” Ms. Pelkey said. The children at St. James in Gouverneur are still in the research portion of their garden project as they prepare to plant an “ABC garden.”
Principal Clara Cummings said the students are learning about plants and vegetables that will grow in this area, and will choose one for each letter of the alphabet to insure a wide variety.
About Fidelis Care
As the New York State Catholic Health Plan, Fidelis Care offers quality, affordable coverage for children and adults of all ages and at all stages of life, including products available through NY State of Health: The Official Health Plan Marketplace. With more than 1.2 million members Statewide, Fidelis Care was founded on the belief that all New Yorkers should have access to affordable, quality health insurance
The Teaching Gardens grant is the fourth grant awarded through Fidelis Care's Catholic Schools Grant Fund aiming to improve health and wellness programs in diocesan schools.
As a result of funding from Fidelis, elementary school students have access to yearly data from physical fitness assessments and the opportunity to set fitness goals; have cafeteria and snack programs that are more healthy and nutritious; experience periodic health assemblies and fairs as well as participate in regular class and/or school wide walking programs.